MODULE C – History and Memory The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Baker suggests that a combination of history and memory is essential in making meaning, i. e. in shaping perceptions of the world around us. How does baker represent this combination to create meaning? History can be viewed as a sequential series of indisputable events, whereas memory is of such events that are highly subjective, and affect the way in which they are perceived.
The link between history and memory and the way it shapes the world around us, is a component of past and present. We are shown this throughout the prescribed text, The Fiftieth Gate, where through bakers quest we see the past continually impacting on the present, as the memories of the past affect those who have endured it. This key concept is also represented in the Channel Seven documentary, ‘Zero Hour- Disaster at Chernobyl’ and ‘Anzac Day commemorative Issue’, released by the Bulletin, 26th April 2005.
All three texts show the affects of history and memory that has subsequently altered perspective on life, “History begins with its memories”. Within the prescribed text, the composer, Mark Baker, conveys how history and memory help shape the way we perceive things in our own world. Bakers search for identity throughout the book adds depth to the meanings that are communicated to the responder.
The audience understands that are the beginning of his journey, Baker is metaphorically in the dark about his parent’s identity, “it always begins in blackness, until the first light illuminates the hidden fragment of memory”. Baker discusses the dark and light nature of his parent’s memories and hoe these memories have affected him throughout his existence, “And I sing them to: sleep my dear parents but do not dream, tomorrow your children will shed your tears, tuck your memories in bed and say goodnight”.
Through imagery, Baker represents how the Holocaust experience has helped shape himself, his family and its habits and traditions, “my grandfather, Leo, would sit in a corner of his living room in Melbourne, surrounded by imitation German furniture. ” His parent’s memories are hidden, deep within them, a way of coping with the nightmares of the events that occurred, “I wish I could forget what I remember. ” The distorted memories may be due to burdened minds, trying to live again, away rom the blackness of their early life. Whatever the reason may be, these lapses in memory posed a problem for Baker as he tries to immerse himself in his parents history, so that he too can reach an understanding of who he is, “I knew I has to wrap myself up in the details of her story, if only to immunize myself against the secret thing that lay there, threatening me beneath her bright clothes and lipstick”.
Only then when Baker discovers who he is, and where he came from will he emerge into a “stream of light”. For the duration of Bakers quest for self validation, Baker has to deal with the historian and the son to bring his parents to “open the gate” and let the memories flood back. As the book develops, one can see the authors growing obsession with finding validation and truth to those memories, as his search for proof is fuelled with the desire to uncover who he is.
To discover the integrity of his parent’s memories, Baker tries to fill in the shady memory gaps by savagely searching for the historical documentation to prove the memories, “18th December 1923 at 2pm”. His search for proof grows until his parents words are not enough, the process of verification brings him to shame, each memory needs a tacit approval of an archival record or corroborating story, “Details, details. Fecks, Fecks”. As the text progresses, Baker discovers a testimony of an SS soldier that justified his mothers account, “found something at last… its really true! Through this exclamatory statement, the responder perceives the significance if history and memory and how historical evidence corresponds with individual memory “Its perspective I value”. The need for factual evidence and validation is also seen in the text, Zero Hour- Disaster at Chernobyl a channel seven documentary on the calamity which occurred on April 26th 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. This event was a major historical incident which had vast implications after the day the disaster took place.
The documentary depicts the history of that event and retells the story through reenactment and through the memories of those who have, and still are enduring it. Both history and memory are key in retelling a true representation of the event. The director, Richard Doyalson utilizes a variety of techniques to represent the integral interweaving of history and memory. Memory is represented by the recollections of those who survived the traumatic event, “the sight of my dead friends, their faces burnt by the radiation, amongst the rubble, I will never forget”.
The description and expression of emotion assists in creating a third dimension of memory, as it adds emotion and personal experience. The responder is clearly aware that even though the disaster was years ago, the event still affects survivors, both physically and mentally, they cannot be free of what the saw, what they endured or what it did to them physically, “that night lives in my body and in my memory”. History is represented on many levels throughout the text.
The responder is shown how the explosion of the reactor was the catalyst of the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Communism and the Cold War. This is conveyed by the video footage showing the historical evidence of these episodes. History is then depicted through the history of the Power Station and what went wrong in order for a catastrophe of this magnitude to happen. Documentation provides factual evidence and knowledge of why and how it happened, “when undertaking safety tests, reactor 4 cannot withstand less than 200”.
The document may be accurate, but they lack emotion, the composer entwines historical documentation and information, “10 times the amount of nuclear fuel than Hiroshima” with historical photographs of affected children to change the tone of the text as it helps the audience to emotionally connect with those whose lives have changed forever, “I will never see my daughter grow up”. The Bulletins, Anzac Day Commemorative Issue honors the 90th Anniversary of Gallipoli. The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 ended in stalemate and humiliating withdrawal by Britain and its allies.
The issue has various articles which depict different viewpoints through the collaboration of history and memory. That time in history was too forever shake the foundations of Australian culture and live in the memories of Australian society, past, present and future, “that’s why the Aussies and the Turks like each other – we made our futures in the same place”. The articles all provide historical evidence of the “fateful day on April 25th 1915”. This is done through historical information and the use of photographic verification.
The photographs send a very dramatic, emotional tone to the reader as they can see and acknowledge the faces and the individuals of the troops at Gallopoli, and personalize the photographs by imagery of troops wearing Australian flag. For Australian readers this is bound to give a much more significant and astounding feeling. Throughout the text there are many allusions to places and dates, “On March 18th, the naval assault in the Dardanelle’s culminated in disaster. One third of the fleet was sunk or disabled with the loss of 700 men”.
This piece of historical documentation is then juxtaposed by a photograph of the warship, again providing the responder to emotionally connect with the events that were endured by the troops. Memory is ubiquitous amongst the text. For a clear depiction and truthful account, the composer realizes that memory is essential for establishing both truth and meaning. Memory is key in portraying the affect that the war had on those who lived through it, “if they had and Australian in charge, we may have won, I may have come home earlier, to you”.
The article provides a place of awareness, not merely of factual truth, but the truth of one’s own perceptions and significance in the collective perceptions of others. The significance of the interweaving history and memory state how troops lived with their memories and as Australians, we have built more from their lives than their experience and memories would suggest possible for them, “I don’t know what my daughter will make of the place and its story. But I think those rows of headstones scattered across the peninsula will grasp at her heart”.
Memory lives within history binding the creator to their social preconditions; it shapes and constructs, dictates their function and demands their superiority. The two cannot be separated, memory binds interpretation. The strength of history lies in its reception through personal nature of communication and demands that we select which is pertinent to our own experience. This concept is manifested through the integration of history and memory within the texts discussed.