Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sandra Nuy-Flashy Constellations

Illustration and Memory


“It is neither the case, that the past sheds light on the present nor that the present sheds light on the past, but the picture is the thing, in which bygone things coincide with the present moment in a flashy constellation. In other words: A picture is dialectic on a halt. For as the relation of past and present is one of time, the relation of the bygone things and the present is dialectic: not by nature of time, but by nature of picture.” (Walter Benjamin, 1991, 578)


Pictures are older than scripture: Before perceptions of the world were written down they have been depicted – the cave-paintings of Lascaux and Altamira are among the most important and most beautiful examples. At all times drawings have illustrated reality and saved it for following generations. And it is not by coincidence, that the German words “Zeichnung” (drawing) und “Aufzeichnung” (chronicle) are etymological that close related. For both describe documentation of cut-outs of reality, fixations of frictions and on-passing of relevant cognition.
Also apart from its dispositions from primitive times the picture is regarded the oldest memory-system of mankind. As a vital part of ancient rhetoric, ars memoriae derives from a founding myth formed by picture. The Greek poet Simonides once had left a feast for a moment, when suddelny the ceiling suddenly collapsed and buried the guests. He was then the only person who was able to identify the disfigured guests for he remembered the seating arrangement. This allowed the bereaved to entomb their relatives appropriately. Since then the combination of pictures and places is regarded the ideal way of mnemonic techniques. The myth of the invention of ars memoriae as art to conquer oblivion refers to the fact, that memory is not only an individual, neuronal, and psychical phenomenon. It is a social phenomenon as well – and it is always a phenomenon of communication and media.

But what are the characteristics of pictures within the discussion on a social, a collective memory? The following remarks try to give some answers, though necessarily cursory. Too multifaceted is the discussion on pictures, too complex the imaginable perspectives of theories on this topic. The memory-oriented paradigms of research are very popular for some years now: Memory became a “main term of humanities” (Aleida Assmann). Also politic and journalistic practice is constantly dealing with this topic; the different cultures of remembrance are controversial subjects of discussions in public and in politics.
Let’s come back to “dialectic on halt”. How can you describe this in a not only iconographic way, but considering aspects of cultural history and cognitive sociology as well? Ariadne’s threat of this consideration will be outlining illustration as media of cultural memory. Put another way it will be asked, what specific characteristics illustration as form of cultural knowledge-management has.

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