Memory work and Memory load (2) – [Research notes]
Having defined what the memory load was in broad terms, we can ask ourselves how it manifests itself in more detail.
There is an injunction to take care of memory work, an implicit norm that consists in valuing memory work in general and which pushes to take responsibility for the memory duty in particular for the people concerned. There is an implicit notion which states that knowing one’s origins is an important, necessary and good thing. Our societies value national, regional or local heritages and reinforce the idea that one must know their past, their history, know where they come from. On an individual level, the notion of identity pushes us to value our backgrounds and the backgrounds of our families to incorporate them into our personal identities. This is even more true for people with a so-called “immigrant background”.
My hypothesis concerning this concept of memory load consists in asserting the fact that for populations of immigrant origin, this memory load is more significant and results, perhaps particularly in France, from a double contradictory injunction: the need to know your family history as explained before, but also the difficulty and sometimes the impossibility, the refusal to value this heritage. This is specific to the second and subsequent generations who, unlike the first generations, are already more or less integrated into the host society. This raises the question of when and how the duty to remember begins, and who bears the burden? One could simplify by saying that the first generation does not bear the burden of the duty to remember but rather the duty to create the conditions for the integration of their children, and if there is a duty of transmission, one can ask to what extent it is different from the duty to remember of the younger generations.
The question of the memory load invites us to ask ourselves the question of who carries the load, and how this load is transmitted or relieved. Sometimes this burden is too heavy to carry and can be denied, rejected, abandoned, for a more or less long time. This memory load can also skip generations.
It seems obvious (but this is where we have to prove the obvious) that people of French origin born in France will not carry this memory load, since the work of remembrance is carried out by institutions, particularly schools.
We also need to distinguish the memory load from its racial components; the two overlap but are not entirely the same.
The memory load is the weight of the debt we owe to the generations before us. This debt is constituted by sacrifices, silences and taboos that were necessary for us to grow up in better conditions than them.
This debt, this memory load, we do not choose to pay it or not. We know, we have it in our blood, we want to pay it. At the same time, and this is the tension and the weight that weighs, this debt is impossible to pay.
In the same way, this memory load is infinite. Not that it can never be lightened, one can come to find peace and serenity by appropriating one’s history. But one can never entirely get rid of the weight of the voids, the lacks, the absences that are proper to all histories. One could even say that this burden becomes lighter as we become aware of its weight, as we accept that we do not have to carry it indefinitely.
It is perhaps always too late to start and always too late to finish a work of memory that has no limits other than those we give ourselves. We are always behind history which, by definition, is already past. We must accept the frustration of not knowing, of not being able to understand, of not being able to live these experiences that precede us and make us. There is something existential about wanting to witness one’s own creation, it is an indecipherable enigma. It is also always time to stop in this quest, in this investigation, when what we find does not do more than lose us.
The memory load is both a desire to know, a libido sciendi, as well as a need to find a place in a common history. The memory load manifests itself and takes on meaning only in a particular social and political context where memory is precisely lacking. It is in this way a shout that claims its right to exist and that demands the means to achieve it, to maintain itself as part of a whole. This shout is a shout of rage, of anger but also a shout of alert. It puts the others in front of the danger of forgetting, in front of the complexity of the common history. It is a cry that calls for help to carry the weight of a complex and diverse history.
The memory load is the space occupied by the questions, the issues related to one’s history. It is the energy spent to do a job that is not taken in charge by society, sometimes even against it.