Are memories — whether they are personal or public — transferable, implantable, or purchasable? Landsberg argues that with the advent of new mass technologies like cinema memory can be massively distributed through the form of commodity. The mass cultural technologies are so powerful that, even though the consumers or spectators did not experience the event, they can feel as if they really lived through the historical moment. Put it another way, prosthetic memory functions like a prosthesis to the memory, being purchased as a commodity and being implanted to extend and replace a missing body part.
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In her book Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity , Celia Lury examines the specific role that photography plays in the prosthetic memories produced by mass culture. Everyone remembers the horrific events of September 11, , but many of those who recall that day did not witness the event with their own eyes. Consider the power of mainstream Hollywood narrative and editing styles. This traditional Western conceptualization of film format, in a sense makes invisible the tools of its construction, encouraging the viewer to identify with the characters and events on screen.
Such a mode of viewing can promote the spectator to experience a temporary loss of ego as they engage in the process of cinematic identification. Cinema is a powerful medium of expression that can provoke a range of physical reactions in its viewers: laughing, crying, screaming, and even nausea.
The cinematic viewing experience, then, prosthetically extends the lives of the viewer to the events portrayed on screen. The range of physical reactions that are possible point towards the prosthetic nature of cinema. Collective memories of events are a primary way that larger groups are held together. The human brain does not work in the same way as a computer, where memories can be pulled out at random. Memory is a process of constant recollection and reconstruction.
The process by which human beings access memories does not differentiate between genuine lived experiences, prosthetic memories, or dreams. This is exactly why sometimes it is possible, when remembering, to confuse dreams with reality or vice versa. Storey makes reference to Williams Adams, a veteran of the Vietnam War. While media technologies have greatly affected the processes of both individual as well as collective identity, we are so entrenched in the ongoing process of memory-creation that it would be impossible to ever truly measure such a thing.
He discusses how prosthesis can supplement the body, replacing old dysfunctional parts or adding. Similarly, media forms such as the cinema is capable of supplementing lived experiences. The possibilities here, unlike with the body, are nearly infinite. The possibilities for prosthetic memory to be incorporated so seamlessly with our own, the point where they may be difficult to properly distinguish unlike with prosthetic body parts , highlights exactly that technologies have produced and continue to produce cyborg identities on a massive scale.
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Alison Landsberg – Prosthetic Memory