At Play in the Fields (and Borders) of the Imaginary: Melanesian Transformations of Forgetting

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Essay Excerpt

From the fields and streams of thought confluent in cultural studies and anthropology, important questions are emerging about how societies remember, and to what effect. In this paper I take as a starting point not social memory but forgetting, suggesting that this point of departure makes apparent some distinctions we may have missed between forgetting as official (purposeful) and unofficial (inadvertent, nonpurposeful) social action. Specifically, I am concerned less with "how societies remember" (to take Connerton's classic phrase), than with how forgetting gives rise to "society." My argument is that collective forgetting, as a social mechanism of alienation, may generate not oblivion but an experience of sociality which takes the place of oblivion; that this productivity reveals, furthermore, a process of ideological inscription - specifically the performative inscription of a unitary perdurable social order - in its relation to the ground of the "cultural imaginary." Thus, I shall discuss how social acts of forgetting produce a substitution for what is denied entry into social life, and their effect of generating what might be called a cultural screen memory at the borders of the ideological and the imaginary. It is a story of articulating power relations and poetics in social action (430).

Battaglia, D. "At Play in the Fields (and Borders) of the Imaginary: Melanesian Transformations of Forgetting." Cultural Anthropology 8.4(1993): 430–442.

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