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Prosthetic Memory

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[edit] Prosthetic Memory: An Introduction

Prosthetic memory is a concept put forth by Alison Landsberg in her article “Prosthetic Memory: Total Recall and Blade Runner.” This concept is particularly relevant in terms of examining the ways that different forms of media have contributed to the era of the posthuman. As Landsberg explains, “By prosthetic memories I mean memories which do not come from a person’s lived experience in any strict sense.”[1] When someone views, for example, a film or television program, they have a memory of the narrative events which transpired without actually having experienced those events in any manner. In her book Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity, Celia Lury examines the specific role that photography plays in the prosthetic memories produced by mass culture. Everyone remembers the horrific events of September 11, 2001, but many of those who recall that day did not witness the event with their own eyes. The media has “fundamentally alter[ed] our notion of what counts as experience”[2] precisely because it “bring[s] the texture and contours of prosthetic memory into dramatic relief.”[3] Media technologies make it possible for human beings to possess, like the replicants of Blade Runner, vivid memories of experiences that are not their own.

[edit] The Process of Identification

Consider the power of mainstream Hollywood narrative and editing styles. This traditional Western conceptualization of film format, in a sense makes invisible the tools of its construction, encouraging the viewer to identify with the characters and events on screen. Cinema in particular, as opposed to television, is intended to be viewed in a dark room with the viewer’s undivided attention. Such a mode of viewing can promote the spectator to experience a temporary loss of ego as they engage in the process of cinematic identification. Cinema is a powerful medium of expression that can provoke a range of physical reactions in its viewers: laughing, crying, screaming, and even nausea. The cinematic viewing experience, then, prosthetically extends the lives of the viewer to the events portrayed on screen. The range of physical reactions that are possible point towards the prosthetic nature of cinema. The spectator never leaves the comfort of their couch or movie theatre, yet as Landsberg points out, “What this suggests is that the experience within the movie theatre and the memories that the cinema affords – despite the fact that the spectator did not live through them – might be as significant in constructing, or deconstructing, the spectator’s identity as any experience that s/he has actually lived through.”[4]

[edit] Memory and Identity

As John Storey points out, “Our autobiographical narratives are primarily sustained by memory.”[5] Lury states, “Continuity of consciousness and memory are also necessary for a person to claim separate status as an individual.”[6] The connection between identity and memory extends beyond the individual, including collective memories as well. Collective memories of events are a primary way that larger groups are held together. The human brain does not work in the same way as a computer, where memories can be pulled out at random. Memory is a process of constant recollection and reconstruction. The process by which human beings access memories does not differentiate between genuine lived experiences, prosthetic memories, or dreams. This is exactly why sometimes it is possible, when remembering, to confuse dreams with reality or vice versa. Storey makes reference to Williams Adams, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Adams states, “When Platoon was first released, a number of people asked me, ‘Was the war really like that?’ I never found an answer… because what ‘really’ happened is now so thoroughly mixed up in my mind with what has been said about what happened that the pure experience is no longer there.”[7] For Adams, the provocative images of popular culture have become so entangled with his lived experience that he cannot possibly explicate the two of them. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the collective memories of historical events like for example the Holocaust are sourced not just from archival footage and photographs, but from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. While media technologies have greatly affected the processes of both individual as well as collective identity, we are so entrenched in the ongoing process of memory-creation that it would be impossible to ever truly measure such a thing.


[edit] Prosthetic Memories and the Cyborg

In Robert Rawdon Wilson’s essay “Cyber(body)parts: Prosthetic Consciousness,” he describes the various double-consciousnesses available to human beings through different forms of physical modications. He states, “A prosthesis is a part, a supplement to a human body, and not, however complexly integrated, self-contained.”[8] He goes on to state, “As I am using the term in this essay, a prosthesis is an artificial body part that supplements the body, but a part that carries an operating system from the body’s organic processes.”[9] If ideas of posthumanism are defined by the an increasing schism between the human body and mind, then what prosthetic memory offers is the mental version of Rawdon’s artificial knee. He discusses how prosthesis can supplement the body, replacing old dysfunctional parts or adding. Similarly, media forms such as the cinema is capable of supplementing lived experiences. The possibilities here, unlike with the body, are nearly infinite. Yet what is most interesting when comparing physical prosthesis to the prosthesis of memory is Rawdon’s notion of the “divided consciousness that machines create.”[10] The distinction between real memory and prosthetic is tenuous rather than clearly divided. The possibilities for prosthetic memory to be incorporated so seamlessly with our own, the point where they may be difficult to properly distinguish (unlike with prosthetic body parts), highlights exactly that technologies have produced and continue to produce cyborg identities on a massive scale.

[edit] See also

[edit] External Links

[edit] References

  1. Alison Landsberg, “Prosthetic Memory: Total Recall and Blade Runner,” Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Ebodiment, (London: Sage, 1995), 175.
  2. Landsberg, 176
  3. Landsberg, 176.
  4. Landsberg, 180.
  5. John Storey, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, (Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 81.
  6. Celia Lury, Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity, (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 7.
  7. Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.) Quoted in John Storey, Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization, .(Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 82.
  8. Robert Rawdon, “Cyber(body)parts: Prosthetic Consciousness,” Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment, (London: Sage, 1995), 243.
  9. Rawdon, 243.
  10. Rawdon, 244.
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