Each year the Center organizes most of its programming around one or two major themes. These are broadly conceived and will be illuminated from a variety of different historical, artistic, and critical angles. In 2018-19, the Center is focusing on a single theme: Memory.
Memory is the most powerful yet fragile of human faculties. Around its mysteries, we weave our deepest sense of self and community, making it, as Cicero wrote, the “treasury and guardian of all things.” We fill our private spaces and public squares with its icons: photographs and monuments, locks of hair and historical markers, dried flowers and weed-wracked cemeteries. We know, however, that memory can be flawed, that it’s fashioned not just by fact, but by trauma and triumph, by emotion and prejudice, and most often, by the need to fashion a compelling story about ourselves. Salman Rushdie describes it as a “way of telling you what’s important to you,” an individual archive, or what Oscar Wilde calls “the diary that we all carry about with us.” Unlike obdurate facts, objects, and events, memory is fundamentally human.
Like all human things, it is full of contradictions that bedevil and beguile us. We fear losing our memory, and yet forgetting can be a strange virtue—a relief from the sometimes irresolvable conflicts of the past. Still, we work hard to recover that which has been forgotten. Truth and reconciliation committees both here in Tulsa and around the world have sought to preserve the memory of trauma, even while attempting to constrain the damage it might do. “Never forget,” we intone, though Rita Mae Brown has argued that “one of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” How do we strike this balance between remembering and forgetting? What happens when memories fail to align with one another or when they’re built around acts of violence? What do we owe to the past—and what does it owe to us? What role do monuments and other kinds of commemoration play in the creation and dislocation of community? How has technology changed our understanding of memory and what happens when memory appears to fail, either through the effects of age or disease or when confronted by some stubborn fact that contradicts it? These are just some of the questions the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will attempt to address throughout the 2018-19 academic year by focusing on the theme of memory.