Images of memory: Depictions of the amnesiac flashback, exemplified by The Bourne Identity x 3

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In old mnemonic systems, like the Memory Palaces (Ricci) and the Memory Circles (Llull), the general purpose is to organize and preserve the images of memory over time. However, in contemporary discussions of memory taking place within the field of trauma studies (Leys, Laub, Feldman, Caruth, van der Kolk), the focus is on the forgotten, and on understanding why we do not remember traumatic events. The aim there is not the preservation of images, but the detection of methods for developing and processing these “hidden” images.

Theories of the preservative mnemonic systems always stress the visual aspects of memory; the images. When dealing with theories about traumatic memories though, the other four senses are considered to be at least as important. For depicting traumatic memories within the arts today, the medium per preferance is definitely film. The concept of using flashbacks to show the return of lost memories has turned out to be a perfect tool in film narration. Within the field of trauma studies, the concept of the flashback is still controversial though, and in the last decade there have been just as many scholars questioning this concept, as defending it. However, the concept seems to have been completely accepted among filmmakers due to its advantages in narrating stories on film.

With this in mind, my paper will discuss how the functions of memory are represented in literature and film today as well as how these representations relate to both new and older theories of memory. This will be done by analyzing and comparing film adaptations of contemporary fiction, mainly Swedish and American, to the literary novels from which they were adapted. The question of whether the concept of flashbacks is as popular in literature as on film will be addressed and I will show which theories of memory are predominant in literature. The old mnemonic systems, just like the modern theories of memory, alternate between static models and models embracing an element of change. These aspects, and the function of the senses in the mnemonic process, will be the focal point of my paper.

This study is part of my current research project on the depiction and function of sense perceptions in contemporary literature and film.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterature and Visual Culture
EditorsDagný Kristjánsdottir
PublisherUniversity of Iceland Press
ISBN (Print)9979-54-669-7
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


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