Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Memories of the future - Anna Ackmatova, Ludwik Fleck and Stanisław Lem

"We are going to speak about the future. Yet isn't discoursing about future events a rather inappropriate occupation for those who are lost in the transience of the here and now?" (Stanisław Lem, Summa Technologiae)

At the crossroad of reconciliation and historical consiousness we find memory. Reconciliation points to the future; historical conciousness to the past. Memory is in the present and transforms both. Memory, like reconciliaton, is first of all, deeply moral and personal. On the other hand, memory is also social mediated, imagined memory and as such, the core of a 'social imaginary'. (Charles Taylor) As a social imaginary, collective memory is also _idealized_ historical consiousness. It reveals how we imagine history as history.

In Ukraine memory is not only a crossroad, but also a disturbing trap and paradox. Untill recently 'reconciliation' only seemed thinkable as a strategy of memory in the service of a vindicative, 'totalitarian', 'etnic-national', 'patriotic' or 'kitch' representation of history. 'We are all victims', said former president Yushenko, 'so let bygones be bygones.' This egalitarian imagined memory of expelling the whispering, haunted voices of Ukraine may on face value look like an attractive Ukrainian social imaginary. However, as we know, without struggling to see the naked truth, reconciliation is hypo-critical. And if reconciliation is a process of moral learning, aimed at a desired future, this 'historical consiousness' - this representation of history - this 'inability to see', blocks this promised future. The more we want it, the less we get.

Maidan not only demands political change, but also aims at 're-conciliation' - mind the 're' - and that makes new honest, truthfull strategies of memory imperative. Could Lviv and Odessa - cities of the Borderlands (Ann Applebaum) - become a crossroad and a birthplace of a different ethics of memory? Isn't it the fate of the Borderlands only to know about themselves through the eyes of the other? Are, than, these remarkable cities not already the asylum where this _ethics_ of memory is already wandering below the streets and squares? 

In this moment we create a monument for three heroes of this wandering memory: Anna Akhmatova, the Russian, Ludwik Fleck, the Jew, and Stanisław Lem, the Pole. All outcasts, displaced children, of the Borderlands, of Odessa and Lviv. Akhmatova, Fleck and Lem are not looking for grounded Ukrainian mnemotic narratives. They give, each in their own way, voice to 'the other' - the wandering ghosts that are persistently among us, but whose whispering voices can hardly be heard.

Each of them suggest a line of mnemonic transformation: poetic, epistemic and phantastic. Anna Akmatova's Requiem shows the power of poetic memory: the creative retelling, reshaping and preserving of haunting stories. Ludwik Fleck is a master of epistemic memory: the meticulous and painstaking genealogy of matters of historical and scientific facts as the interplay of 'styles and communities of thinking and memory'. Stanisław Lem - who most of us know as a briljant science fiction writer - is probably the most complex of our triplet. He invents phantastic memory: his Solaris explores the inescapable memories of the ghosts we desperately want to forget. But Lem also explores - e.g. in - Perfect Vacuum - the mnemonic void of remembering what never happened, but could, should or will. As such he is our guide to memories of the future.

All three of them more or less embrace their fate of deliberately being Unzeitgemäß as a pre-condition of an ethics of memory that does justice to the other. They demonstrate the hard personal work and sacrifice required to create a different Ukrainian social imaginary. In hearing their voices and transforming them in sites de memoire they become our personal companions in our quest of re-conciliation as a memory of the future. As said, reconciliation is deeply moral. And personal. As is memory. You can't have the one, without the other.

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