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Anna Gotlib, “Memory Holes: Unrestricted Self-Authorship, Memory Manipulation, and the Law” @ Brooklyn Public Philosophers

Nov 24, 2014 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

| Free

The last BKPP talk before our Winter break is coming up soon! On Monday 11/24, Anna Gotlib (Brooklyn College) will join us to share her work on memory manipulation and the self. Here’s a bit more about Dr. Gotlib’s talk, in her own words:

Memory Holes: Unrestricted Self-Authorship, Memory Manipulation, and the Law

In his play, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures,” Tony Kushner’s 72-year-old, generally asymptomatic protagonist Gus Marcantonio, thinking that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s, informs his family that he not only wants to sell the house, but that he intends to kill himself over the weekend. Somewhat similarly, in director Lee Chang-dong’s film “Poetry,” the nearly symptom-free, sixty-something heroine is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and promptly jumps off a bridge (Gullette 2011).

These are no mere flights of artistic imagination, nor would these imagined acts be truly shocking to aging audiences who, according to a 2010 survey by the MetLife Foundation, dread an Alzheimer’s diagnosis more than any other. Perhaps one obvious way to understand these characters, as well as this survey, is to point to a fundamental fear of losing one’s autonomy, one’s ability to go about one’s life in a way that one can endorse and carry out. Another is this: we in the Global North are a culture obsessed with memory — keeping it, sorting it out, controlling it — and when we are faced with its loss, we fall into a profound darkness, sometimes irretrievably. It could be that what we take to be something uniquely and deeply ours — the various meaning-making stories of our lives — is being taken away, unfairly stolen, disintegrating and annihilating the self in the process. Or else, as witnesses to the horror, we fear being forgotten — we despair at the thought of involuntary erasure by the failing memories of those who most matter to us. And as we lose our memories of ourselves and of others, or as we are lost to them, we first rage, and then, inevitably, fall silent.

So, memory matters — this much seems clear. But this is not a paper about how and why we are trying to (merely) save it. In fact, in some ways, it is the opposite: This paper challenges our correlative desires to control and to mold the memories we wish to erase, or otherwise diminish. Specifically, I want to address two emerging practices— one that attempts to edit individual and collective memories through a radical reinterpretation of internet privacy law; and the other that is in the process of rapidly developing the means of biomedical memory modification, and even erasure. I want to challenge these practices as deeply troubling misreadings of what matters, or what ought to matter, both individually and collectively, to memory-dependent, narrative beings such as ourselves. My intent, then, is to examine these emerging memory-modifying practices, addressing the openings that they create for a nearly unlimited self-authorship, no longer encumbered by the burdens of history, the collective nature of remembering, or by the passage of time.

Tell your friends/students/teachers/strangers! As usual, we meet at 7:00 P.M. in the Info Commons Lab at the Grand Army Plaza Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

See you there, I hope!


Nov 24, 2014
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Brooklyn Public Library, Info Commons Lab
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238 United States


Brooklyn Public Philosophers