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The Complexity of Memory

Thomas Whitley

I have written before on how I believe memory is sacred and have shared Buechner's thoughts on what it means to remember someone. I have recently read J.Z. Smith's To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual and he has this to say about the relationship of memory to time and space:

So it is with memory; it is a complex and deceptive experience. It appears to be preeminently a matter of the past, yet it is as much an affair of the present. It appears to be preeminently a matter of time, yet it is as much an affair of space.

I do not know enough about cognitive processes to speak for any length of time about the re-presentative theory or any other theories of memory, but Smith is definitely on to something. He asks, for instance,

If memory of a past experience is, through the processes of memory, experienced only  in the present, how can that present memory be an awareness of the past?

Memory is a matter of the past, but is also very much a matter of the present. Thinking about memory this way may serve to confuse, but I think it also enriches memory and the process of remembering, especially in the sense Buechner talks about it.