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Memory & Narrative, 7

To illustrate more thoroughly with several examples, I'll ask the question this way. How does popular storying of the past simplify and 'inflate' causality in order to embed sequence, thus enabling an efficient remembering of the past as the past?

Note: I say "in order to" but these examples may denote mnemonic/narratological distortions that are/were deliberate or accidental, or possibly both. If such processes are often subconscious, we might not call that deliberate, but the basic trade-off (distort/represent) makes them appear to be purposeful.

When I first began to consider "efficiency" in remembering the past, I thought of three examples immediately (the first two being noted historical fallacies). They are "post hoc", "the great man theory" and ceremonial transitions. There are probably many more general types of examples, but three ideas have helped organize my thoughts. They may not make the most distinct categories, but they are wellsprings of my continuing attempt to identify more examples. I use them for that reason. Please pardon some overlap in my conceptual analysis of what remains - albeit exhaustingly! - an exploratory hypothesis.

At any rate, the examples in these 'non-categories' all seem to focus on one or more aspects of contingency, or more precisely on the perception of contingency, and at the very least they reveal our profoundly startling need to perceive temporal events in terms of causal contingencies. This does of course include minor, major, inflated, contrived, and even utterly fabricated contingencies, but none of those differences are what accounts for my three groups. If forced to defend these, I might say "post hoc" is about change perceived as phenomenal, "great man" is about change perceived as the result of someone's personal power or will, and "ceremonial transitions" is about artificial declarations to deliniate an official moment of change, which applies also to the retrospective periodicity of historians, but which more generally (I feel) reflects our constant desire (mnemonically and narratologically influenced, at all times) to perceive particular changes as if they were clearly distinct.

Got all that?

Unfortunately, the first category is the most extensive to illustrate. Since this is already a lot of introductory work - and since this topic which I had planned for one post just turned into three posts, I may as well make it four.

My next three posts will illustrate how popular storying of the past enables efficient remembering of temporal sequence, which enables efficient remembering of the past as the past, and how this occurs with observable similarity in various representational and mnemonic distortions, loosely categorized according to the historical fallacies we call "post hoc" and "great man", and by the common social custom of staging "ceremonial transitions".

To be continued...