Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives, Aleida Assmann

Assmann offers an interdisciplinary analysis of the complex phenomenon of memory and insists on the importance of an active, non-manipulative politics of memory when it comes to constructing cultural heritage. The book is divided into three parts: in the first the author investigates the functions of cultural memory; in the second she focuses on the means by which it is preserved in writing, painting, places, and in the body itself, and in the third she analyses the archiving processes used for cultural heritage, including a series of examples from contemporary art and artists born during or after the Second World War, marked by both tragedies and the reconstruction process. The memories at the centre of artistic production represent the privileged vehicle for restoring a world doomed to oblivion. According to the author, “while books and libraries may have lost much of their social significance with the electronic cultural revolution, they have gained in artistic importance. Their dramatic functional decline has led to a new fascination in their materiality.” (p. 345) Assmann describes this transformation by analysing installations by contemporary artists, such as Anselm Kiefer’s Zweistromland: a huge double system of shelves holding around 200 enormous books made of lead, which represents the perfect paradox of knowledge that is safely guarded and destined to last for eternity, but illegible and burdened by the weight of history.

Aleida Assmann, born in Bethel in Germany in 1947, teaches English Literature and General Theory of Literature at the University of Konstanz. She had received several awards for her scholarship and  studies on collective memory.

Aleida Assmann
Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011

Original Title: Erinnerungsräume. Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses
English language edition

ISBN: 9780521165877
410 pages