Uses and Abuses of Environmental Memory

Abstract

This chapter defines four spatiotemporal scales according to which “environmental memory operates”: “biogeological” memory, “personal” memory, “social” or “collective” memory, and “national” memory. The chapter assesses seriatim the kinds of work of eco-cultural retrieval that each of the four modes of memory characteristically performs. The range, flexibility, and limitations of each memory mode – as well as how they interrelate and stand opposed to one another – are illustrated by reference to pertinent historical events/contexts and by copious examples from world literature of the past two centuries – especially but not wholly Anglophone – and from the global “south” as well as the “north.” These in turn are conceived within a critical framework that rests on a synthesis of perspectives from collective memory studies, phenomenology, developmental and experimental psychology, sociology/anthropology, and life science, as well as literary criticism and theory. A series of concluding reflections respond to the fundamental normative questions that underlie the whole inquiry: How much reliance is to be placed on memory as carrier of environmental understanding and thereby as stimulus to environmentalist intervention? To what extent, might memory – as variously defined – serve as a recuperative resource for reënvisioning nature in an era of environmental crisis?

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