Cerebral Mechanism Conditions Memories

The war has associations with the individual and collective memory of the affected person or society. Thus, the context of a historic film is crucial to map out how the memory is constructed because the film does not only represent one history. Rather it is a part of the history which is emerged from the individual and collective memories (Stern, 2007). Therefore, I continue explaining Bergsonian memory through which the film will be analyzed.

Henri Bergson was one of the first thinkers to pay attention to different types of memory and he tried to find out why memory cannot be regarded as merely a weakened form of perception (Ansell-Pearson, 2007). Bergson as having psychoanalytic background was close to Freud. They both believed that a radical division must be made between memory and perception if we want to see a radical alterity of the unconscious. Bergson calls memory 'a privileged problem' precisely because an adequate conception of it will enable us to speak seriously of unconscious psychical states (2007). In this respect, Bergson anticipates the arguments Freud put forward four years later in the Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1976). In his text Bergsonism, Deleuze (1988) deals with that Bergson introduces an ontological unconscious over and above the psychological one, and it is this which enables us to speak of the being of the past and to grant the past a genuine existence (2007).The past is not simply reduced to a former present, and neither can it be solely identified with the phenomenon of psychological recollection (Deleuze 1988).

According to Bergson, time is a duration (la durée) and the preservation of the past. It opens a road to the co-existence of past and present (Bergson, 1991). Bergson consists in conceiving its operation in terms of a synthesis of past and present and with a view to the future. This goes against the conception which conceives memory as a repetition or reproduction, in which the past is repeated or reproduced in the present and is opposed to invention and creation (Ansell-Pearson, 2007). For Bergson, memory is linked to creative duration and to sense. As Bergson notes, if a matter does not remember the past since it repeats it constantly and is subject to a law of necessity, a being which evolves creates something new at every moment (Bergson, 1991, p.223).If memory is a form of duration, then it is one with the impetus of consciousness itself and what in fact needs explaining is forgetting (Bergson, 1991).

In Matter and Memory, Bergson challenges the psychology in terms of the definition of memory by showing that memories are not conserved in the brain (Bergson, 1991). He installs perception and memory. It is as if Bergson is saying: memory is not in the brain but rather in time, but time is not a thing, it is duration, hence nothing can be in anything (Ansell-Pearson, 2007). Hence his argument, curious at first, that when there takes place a lesion to the brain it is not that memories are lost, simply that they can no longer be actualized and translated into movement or action in time. Thus, he claims that memory and psychological recollection are not the same. Bergson's argument stands on two things: pure perception and pure memory. The central claim of the book is that while the difference between matter and perception is one of degree, the difference between perception and memory is one of kind.

So, what is memory actually according to Bergson? First, that in actuality memory is inseparable from perception; it imports the past into the present and contracts into a single intuition many moments of duration, “and thus by a twofold operation compels us, de facto, to perceive matter in ourselves, whereas we, de jure, perceive matter within matter” (Bergson, 1991, p.73). Second, whilst the cerebral mechanism conditions memories, it is not sufficient to ensure their survival or persistence. According to Bergson, there are two types of memory: sensory and automatic. So, he distinguishes two different forms of memory. On the one hand memories concerning habitude, replaying and repeating past action, not strictly recognized as representing the past, but utilizing it for the purpose of the present action (Bergson, 1991; Ansell-Pearson, 2007). This kind of memory is automatic, inscribed within the body, and serving a utilitarian purpose (Ansell-Pearson, 2007). Bergson takes as an example the learning of a verse by rote: Recitation tending toward non-reflective and mechanical repetition. The duration of the habitual recitation tends toward the regular and one may compare this kind of memory to a practical knowledge or habit. He states that it is habitude clarified by memory, more than memory itself strictly speaking (1991). Pure memory, on the other hand, registers the past in the form of "image-remembrance", representing the past, recognized as such (1991). It is free. So, this is true memory. Bergson takes as his example the remembrance of the lesson of learning the same verse, a dated fact that cannot be recreated. Pure memory or remembrance permits the acknowledgment that the lesson has been learned in the past, cannot be repeated, and is not internal to the body.

The essential dimension of the body is active and specific adaptation in the present. It is only in the form of motor contrivances that the action of past can be stored up (Bergson, 1991; Ansell-Pearson, 2007). Past images are preserved in a different manner. The past survives, then, under two distinct forms: in motor mechanisms and in independent recollections. Both serve the requirements of the present. The usual or normal function of memory is to utilize a past experience for present action (recognition), either through the automatic setting into motion of mechanism adapted to circumstances, or through an effort of the mind which seeks in the past conceptions best able to enter into the present situation (Ansell-Pearson, 2007). Here the role of the brain is crucial: it will allow only those past images to come into being or become actualized that are deemed relevant to the needs of the present. A lived body is one embedded in a flux of time, but one in which it is the requirements of the present that inform its constant movement within the dimension of the past and horizon of the future (Ansell-Pearson, 2007).If the link with reality is severed, in this case, the field of action in which a lived body is immersed, then it is not so much the past images that are destroyed but the possibility of their actualization, since they can no longer act on the real: “It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that an injury to the brain can abolish any part of memory.” (Bergson, 1991, p.79).

Finally, Bergson points out that sensory memory holds sensory information less than one second after an item is perceived. The ability to look at an item and remember what it looked like with just a split second of observation, or memorization, is the example of sensory memory. It is out of control and is an automatic response. On the other hand, we have unconscious memories, the oldest surviving memories, which come forward spontaneously, such as in dreams. So, Memory is not a recollection. Rather it is triggered by a matter and it happens in a duration. A true memory is coming from the unconsciousness in which there are repressed things.