Monday, July 26, 2010

Unmaking history--Burmese, er, Myamar style

I'm gradually reading Emma Larkin's  Finding George Orwell in Burma, and came across this interesting passage:

"'Mandalay' is one of the few place names in Burma that has not been changed by the Burmese military government. In 1989 the regime renamed streets, towns and cities across Burma. Maymyo, the old British hill station that Orwell visited, became Pyin-Oo-Lwin, and Fraser Street in Rangoon became Anawyatha Lan in Yangon. Most of the old names were Anglicized Burmese names that had been used by the Birtish colonial government and the regime claimed that the changes were a long-overdue move to discard these colonial tags. But there was a deeper-rooted motive. The generals were rewriting history. When a place is renamed, the old name disappears from maps and, eventually, from human memory. If that is possible, then perhaps the memory of past events can also be erased. By renaming cities, towns and streets, the regime seized control of the very space within which people lived; home and business addresses had to be rewritten and relearned. And, when the regime changed the name of the country, maps and encyclopedias all over the world had to be corrected. The country known as Burma was erased and replaced with a new one: Myanmar.

"The crucial event which triggered this rewriting of the past was the people's uprising of 1988. At eight minutes past eight in the morning on the eighth day of the eighth month of that year, students launched a countrywide demonstration against almost three decades of poverty and oppression under military rule. Thousands of people flooded into the streets of cities and towns all over Burma shouting, 'Dee-mo-ka-ra-see! Dee-mo-ka-ra-see!' The government response was brutal: that evening, soldiers marched into the streets and strafed the crowds with machine-gun fire. In Rangoon, doctors and nurses, overwhelmed by the wounded, hung a sign outside the general hospital begging the soldiers to stop killing people. The sign was written with the blood of the wounded and dead. When a column of nurses joined the protest in the streets, wearing their white uniforms, they too were shot. Among those who died during the days of chaos that followed were high-school children, teachers and monks. Smoke billowed from crematoriums as the authorities rapidly disposed of their corpses. The uprising did not end until more than 3,000 people had been shot or bludgeoned to death by government soldiers."

As if we didn't have enough  problems with memory without governmental forces actively working to undermine them...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Haiti--Six Months Later

Even though this blog has turned out to be about a lot of other things related to memory, my apparently faulty memory of its inception is that it was going to be to revisit event, once riveting, that had fallen off the media charts. Sadly, I don't seem to have been much 'on task' when it comes to this project. But luckily, when it comes to Haiti, Ray Suarez of the PBS Newshour has. He's got a week long series in which he accesses how Haiti is doing right now. Tonight's interview with the Haitian president Rene Preval brought out the interesting concept that the Haitian government should actually be involved somehow with the coordination of priorities of how to use the money that flooded into Haiti directly after the earthquake.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Removable Memories

No, I didn't come up with that title on my own. It comes from the  second segment of William Salatan's Slate piece on "The Memory Doctor". This piece focuses first on how pathetically easy it is to get someone to remember something that didn't happen, and then goes on to dissect the life of Loftus herself. Loftus comes across as a bit queasymaking, but it's also a kind of clumsy piece, which surprised me a little. It's as if Loftus herself was a subject hard to remember long enough to accurately record.

The main thing I got from this excerpt, though, is that memory is not like a recording machine. It seems to resemble something more like silly putty--pliable and infinitely ready to take whatever image is impressed upon it. Frankly, I don't get it, and I don't in the end really believe it. I start to feel as though there is a surface memory function that you can lie to and implant with things but beneath that a deeper memory, perhaps a memory of the body itself that is incapable of lying, or of accepting lies. We shall see as this blog goes along.