On the Many Ways of Saying Memory

This essay examines the concept and the discourse of collective memory in view of interpreting the novel function with which it has been endowed in recent decades and the problematic character of its interpretation. To this end, it focuses on the recent book by Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History, which examines the contemporary functions that collective memory has assumed in recent decades and takes into account interpretations of it elaborated in a number of seminal works that have set the framework for contemporary ways of understanding it. My investigation engages critical analysis of the psychological approach to collective memory that Cruz adopts, which, in interpreting recent public preoccupation with collective memory as an expression of trauma occasioned by the Holocaust and other horrific twentieth-century events, assumes that analogous psychic mechanisms govern forms of remembrance in the public sphere and memory in personal and small-group interaction. By taking into account alternate possibilities of interpretation, suggested above all by the public function of the mass media, I seek to widen the scope of enquiry to scrutinize in a broader perspective the contemporary role of collective memory and its political significance in the public realm.