This symposium raises the question of whether societies develop not so much through remembering the past as they do through forgetting it. If we assume that cultural memory is built upon suppression and forgetting, then memory as a personal and collective reality implies that the past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory. The articulation of the past is inevitably subject to contingency, be it political or religious or personal, therefore not only the past can assume diverse meanings and representations but can also be erased from memory, forgotten.
In this view this symposium wants to explore the role of the humanities in preserving and handing down memory and its influence on the cultural memory of modern society. At the same time we want to interrogate the role of power in shaping memory (canon and censorship): ‘for every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably’; and ‘to articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke)’ [Benjamin, Thesis V,VI].
We may thus challenge the assumption that cultural identity is about creating a narrative on one’s own place in history and what happened in the past: it might rather be that what cultures treasure as memory is important for identity formation as much as what it is, sometimes deliberately, forgotten.