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November 10, 2007, 1:00 PM

Distortions of Memory

Participants: Deirdre Bair, Bruno Clément, Maryse Condé, William Hirst, Edward Nersessian, Lois Oppenheim (moderator)

"Reconstruction" is a term made known by psychoanalysis. As the analysand revives the past through the free association of feelings and thoughts, however, what is "reconstructed" is the meaning that past had for the individual; its "truth" remains quite another matter. In recent years, just how we store and subsequently recall the past has become the focus of cognitive neuroscientists. As knowledge has been gained of the brain's retention of events and learning, it has become necessary to distinguish between various kinds of memory: declarative, semantic, episodic, visual, procedural, and others. This has thrown into question a number of assumptions about the mental representational system. The participants in this round-table will explore those assumptions and what functions are served by the distortion of memory. From the vantage points of literary expression (autobiography and biography), psychoanalysis (the impact of the unconscious), philosophy (moral implications), and neuroscience (the organic basis for memory storage and retrieval), remembering and mis-remembering will be explored.

Dierdre Bair is the author of four biographies, Samuel Beckett (winner of the National Book Award); Simone de Beauvoir (NY Times "Best Books of the Year" and LA Times Book Prize finalist); Anaïs Nin (NY Times "Notable Books of the Year" and a BBC Arts 4 documentary); and Jung: A Biography (NY Times "Notable Books of the Year," LA Times Book Prize finalist, and winner of the NAAP Gradiva Award for Best Biography of the Year). Her most recent publication is Calling It Quits: Late Life Divorce and Starting Over, a cultural study published by Random House. She has held fellowships and grants from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations, the Mary Ingram Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, and the Ann and Erlo van Waveren Foundation.

Bruno Clément is Professor of French literature at the University of Paris VIII and President, since 2004, of the Collège International de Philosophie. He is an elected member of the Conseil National des Universités, as well as the author of numerous books and articles on subjects as diverse as the writing of Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others; the act of reading; and literary theory. In his most recent work, which is more specifically concerned with the interrelation of philosophy and literature, he focuses on the philosophical text as a literary work as opposed to a more neutral medium for the expression of thought.

Maryse Condé was born in Guadeloupe but has lived in several different countries in Africa and Europe, as well as the US. After working in London for the BBC as a program producer, she began her career as an academic, teaching in France—at the university of Paris campuses known as Jussieu, Nanterre, and the Sorbonne—and in the U.S. at the Universities of California, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as Harvard and Columbia, where she created and chaired the program in Francophone Studies. Her writings include the two-part historical novel Ségou: Les Murailles de Terre, I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, La Belle Créole, Histoire de la Femme Cannibale, and Victoire, la Saveur et les Mots, all translated into English by Richard Philcox. She is the recipient of the prestigious Prix Litteraire de la Femme and the Boucheron Prize.

William Hirst is Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research. He has previously taught at Rockefeller University, Princeton University, and Cornell Medical College. He is a leading expert on memory, especially autobiographical memory and social influence on memory, and has published articles on such diverse topics as amnesia, traumatic memory, collective memory, and memory relating to September 11.

Edward Nersessian is Co-Director of the Philoctetes Center. He is a psychoanalyst and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College.

Lois Oppenheim is Distinguished Scholar, Professor of French, and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montclair State University, where she also teaches courses in psychoanalysis and the literary and visual arts. She has authored or edited ten books and published over seventy articles. Her most recent books include A Curious Intimacy: Art and Neuro-Psychoanalysis and The Painted Word: Samuel Beckett's Dialogue With Art. Dr. Oppenheim is a member of the advisory board of The Philoctetes Center.


Edited Transcript

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Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Nathalie Chevi says:
Maryse Condé asks the question "how can we reconcile those outside views of Guadeloupe (a kind of paradise) and our personal feeling—memory (We see poverty, we see disease, and so on)"
Patrick Chamoiseau, a Martiniquan, has talked about the problems associated with the painful memories of slavery, a trauma that makes the construction of an identity of the people difficult. He talks about the buried memories, the buried slaves under the sand, all these dead covered by this luscious vegetation. He talks about recovering and transforming this memory of suffering in a form of wisdom to prevent it from happening again, and also to recompose its cultural heritage, to better see the beautiful that came out of it, beautiful in the sense of a particular vibration that puts us in resonance with much deeper realities, in any case, realities that concern a humanisation more accomplished, more complete.
A denial of humanity happened which might be feeding the relationship that the creole from the Caribbean has to the landscape; their monuments are, in part, those landscapes.

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