Postmemory is best defined as a residual type of memory; a recollection of an event not personally experienced but socially felt; a traumatic rupture that indelibly scars a nation, religious group, community or family. Marianne Hirsch posits the concept in relation to the overwhelming weight of Holocaust memory and its discursive power, particularly through photographs and visual images, to fix and shape Jewish historical consciousness and remembrance. For Hirsch (1997: 2), postmemory exists as ‘a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated, not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation.’ Such memory often works simultaneously to connect subsequent generations to, and distance them from, their collective pasts. It helps provide mnemonic frames and schemata for affirming social identities, communal traditions and temporal continuity while imprisoning people within historical discourses that have ‘silenced us verbally’ and still ‘defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension’ (Hirsch 1997: 22, 2008: 107). Postmemory suggests that traumatic historical events, whether distanced by time or obfuscated by political design, cannot be easily buried, erased or forgotten but instead are reworked and renegotiated within present contexts, discursive spheres and everyday encounters. This chapter seeks to probe the perimeters and limitations of postmemory, first by situating it within the wider theoretical debate over social memory and its dynamic engagement with history, forgetting, culture and identity. In examining how Lebanese youth are remembering and forgetting their past it is important to elucidate the existence of multiple, competing and fragmented memory discourses that exist within any given social formation. While these have been
described by theorists as collective/popular/public memories or more broadly differentiated as ‘memory cultures’ (Radstone 2005), I prefer Andreas Huyssen’s concept of complexes of palimpsestic memories – constitutive and syncretistic encounters with the past. Memories are fluid composites of interrelated and conflicting histories; condensed remembrances composed when ‘people experience and participate in intersecting historical legacies, movements and presences’ (Schwab 2010: 30). I therefore adopt an intersubjectivist approach to memory which acknowledges that memories are constructed from cultural forms and constrained by social context, but ultimately are individually reproduced and continually transformed (Misztal 2003: 11). The remainder of the chapter turns its attention to the explicit role and potentiality of postmemory in contexts of violence and trauma; from divisive ‘identity politics’ to facilitating new forms of consensus. Finally I move from theory to context, providing an analysis of my methodological approach in locating and examining a Lebanese postmemory generation.