Journalism, Memory & Forgetting

This is ‘a version’ of a paper I gave at the 2014 Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) Centre conference, Media, War and Memory.  The talk/paper was/is titled
The Past is Not a Foreign Country: Why Journalists Should Write a Better ‘Second Draft of History’ and looks at how we allocate (or mis-allocate) memory around our colonial history, particularly with respect to contemporary reporting on Treaty of Waitangi issues. Excuse the philosophical style type etc. rambling at the top. If you want the journalism/empirical stuff, just go down to the section headed “Journalism and History”.

In this paper I’m going to look at memory and collective memory first from a philosophical perspective – this is to make the case that the business of personal and collective memory lie at the heart of our existence both as individuals, and as citizens who, in theory, want to have an identity, a place where we belong. Put another way, memory and remembering are viscerally existential matters.

Next, I look at how journalists help or hinder in forming that collective memory – in this particular case, I do that by investigating a year’s worth of reporting on Treaty settlement issues.

(The black and white photos throughout of various commemorative/battle sides in Aotearoa New Zealand are from architect Geordie Shaw’s amazing and beautiful M Arch thesis, titled The Lost, Erased, Unseen, and Forgotten: Translating into Architecture the New Zealand Wars, which you can read online right here, and you should.)

Memory

Tapuaharuru RedoubtWhat is memory? The answer to that question depends on who is asking it: The neuro-scientist. The teacher. The historian. The gerontologist. For the philosopher – in particular the phenomenologist – consciousness and memory are effectively one and the same thing. Without remembering, without memories – that is, consciousness over time – I don’t know who or what I am because I don’t know where I came from, what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what I’ve thought, whom I’ve loved and loathed.

Because of the way consciousness and time and memory overlap, one can actually make the much stronger claim: it’s not just that without memory (consciousness of time) that I don’t know who or what I am, I may not even know that I am – I may not even “be”.

In a phenomenological sense — indeed in an existential sense — an “I” or “me” that only exists for an instant is no “I” at all.

Perhaps the first in the Western tradition to seriously investigate memory was St. Augustine — the 4th century theologian and philosopher – which he did in his book Confessions:

In the vast hall of my memory…sky land and sea are available to me together with all the sensations I have been able to experience in them, except for those which I have forgotten.

There also I meet myself and recall what I am, what I have done, and when and where and how I was affected when I did it.

But it’s not just that my past introduces me to my present self. it is also the source of my future self. Here’s Augustine again:

Out of the same abundance in store, I combine with past events images of various things, whether experienced directly, or believed on the basis of what I have experienced; and on this basis I reason about future actions and events and hopes.

Te PorereSo here I am – me, and my continuous past, my memories. There’s obviously still something missing, and that is the world I emerge into. It was the phenomenologists, among others, who really began to challenge the possibility of an isolated individual consciousness – a la Descartes’ res cogitans (thinking thing) – or at least the possibility that such an individual could make any sense to us as beings-in-the world.

A key player in this shift, and which lay at the core of the phenomenological school of thought, was Heidegger and his re-conception of the person as Da-sein, literally being-there, but it’s usually left un-translated because it is philosophically untranslatable. (Anyone writing anything about Heidegger must acknowledge his links to Naziism. The question of how his philosophy should be considered in that light is important, and I certainly don’t have an answer. There’s a good recent piece about this in the Oct. 9, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books by Peter E. Gordon.)

Continue reading

Rena Case Going to Enviro Court

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council announced today that it has decided to refer the application to leave the rest of the Rena wreck on Astrolabe reef to the Environment Court. The council saw the writing on the wall: it was going to wind up there anyway, via appeals.  The Chief Executive, Mary-Anne Macleod was quoted in the BOPRC’s media release as saying:

 “First, it is clear from comments made by interested parties and submitters that any decision made by the Council is likely to be appealed to the Environment Court anyway. Given the inevitability of an appeal, it makes no sense to impose duplicate costs on those submitters who wish to appear in person. Also the costs to the ratepayer would be significantly increased if the Council were to hold its own hearings, only to have to participate again at an Environment Court level.”

The so-called Astrolabe Community Trust, set up by the owners and insurers of the Rena, have lots of money to fight this in the court and they wanted it to go there, while opponents will have to scrape up what they can since it seems likely our ‘representatives’ (the various councils) will be about as useful at protecting residents and the environment from shippers and insurers as the councils around Waihi are in protecting residents there from mining companies. Still, now that it’s gone to the court, there will be a bit of money available for objectors through the Govt to fund their case. I think a maximum of $40,000 if memory serves.

And while I’m whining about the media (oh, wait, but I wasn’t), how come the BOP Times gets to put their own tagline on this story: Rena Application Goes to Environment Court. Can you see any difference between that and the media release titled Rena Application Heads for Environment Court? (OK, “Goes” rather than “heads”). Could they at least have “added some value” by getting comment from some of the interested parties?

In related content, my previous post was on this issue, and was titled The Rena Sellout.