“Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.” – Luis Buñuel
Over glasses of wine with good friends, I felt my newly acquired academic vocabulary sneak into normal catch-up banter. As I shared the details of events that transpired since I last saw my friends, I referred to “my narrative,” “story-telling,” and “memory.” These words permeate each line of my master’s thesis and much of my graduate school studies. Throughout the past year, I have searched for every line of academic literature on memory and the role it plays in defining the story of an individual as well as its cohesive and divisive power within a community and society. It is an academic search, with a personal quest at its heart.
The blurry lines of my thesis refer to the difficult, painful memories that feel hesitant and, at times, unspoken in Rwanda. The individual stories of a past marked by suffering give way to a national narrative for the country. In his most recent book, Phil Clark discusses the idea of “truth-shaping,” which draws on the fluid nature of memories---allowing them to be molded into a cohesive narrative. The idea of blending stories into a narrative brings me to the essence and power of storytelling. What is told? Who tells it? What is kept for oneself or even silenced? What memories are shaped into a new narrative? How does this process take place?
To borrow words from Pierre Janet;
“Memory is an action: essentially it is the action of telling a story.”
While the case study of my thesis considers the Rwandan conflict and subsequent process of healing and rebuilding, the theories of the role of memory, separated from the conflict, transcend into my own life, infusing into my own story. The internal reflection stimulated by the notion of truth-shaping and allowing memories to take a more fluid nature, inspires a yearning to re-write my own stories and critical moments that define how I got to where I am.
What if I could reframe my memories, drawing on the positive, the lessons, the growth, and build upon whatever heartbreak lies within them? It seems that as an individual I could reach a place of deeper healing and, perhaps, create a more positive narrative that would not only impact how I saw the past, but how I could envision the future.