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Oliner, M.M. (2006). The Externalizing Function of Memorials. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(6):883-902.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(6):883-902

The Externalizing Function of Memorials

Marion M. Oliner, Ph.D.

In exploring the externalizing function of memorials, I focus on the complex interplay between the shared memory of actual historic events and the internal world of individuals who are reminded of that history, and I consider memorials as a part of that elusive but also reassuring dimension of experience that confirms that something undeniably exists in the external world and is not merely imagined. I am therefore elaborating on the assumption that human beings hold themselves responsible for their inner world and can obtain relief from the recognition that an event took place outside their own sphere of influence. In this sense, memorialization is The Remembrance of Things Past, brought back as a lost world (as Proust accomplished in his famous work by that title, in its English translation), rather than as an accusation. Thereby, the lost and remembered world attains once more a measure of life and diminishes the power of unconscious guilt.

Memorialization, through public events, rituals, literature, and monuments, serves an essential function that prevails over the personal wish to forget and to allow the mind to be governed by unconscious fantasy by denying the reality of historic events. It is not self-evident that memorialization is commonly accepted and is proof of an equally powerful need to remember events, even those that shake the belief in an orderly and dependable world. But the fact that the desire to memorialize preoccupies some of the most creative individuals attests to the ubiquity of this need. In this study I suggest that the power stems from the fact that memorials relocate past events into the external world from which they originated.


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