Memory is a cultural code word of our times. It evokes the moral lesson of human rights—the idea of “never again” after state terror and misinformation. Its cultural potency in the 1990s and 2000s does not, however, solve a historical mystery. When, how, and why did “memory” emerge as a mobilizing language that symbolized the drive for truth, justice, and democracy? This essay traces, for the iconic case of Chile, the dialectics of street struggle and cognitive struggle during the Pinochet dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s that turned memory into a strategic language for victim-survivors of state terror. Ironically, “memory” as a rallying cry for human rights that are unfulfilled but morally undeniable gained even more traction after democratic transition. New generations of social justice activists put their own stamp on what memory means, rather than abandoning memory as a language of moral and political struggle.
1 January 2016