Signs of memory : a semiotic phenomenology of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum / by Eric David Fox.
Human memory is a semiotic phenomenon which is integral to the constitution of meaning through communication. Memory functions as the contextual relationship between experience and interpretation out of which remembrances, stories, and histories unfold. The representational practices which are commonly recognized as memory work are best understood as sign functions that are essentially rhetorical realities which operate tropologically. Such signs operate by transposing meaning between people through space/time. Modernist paradigms neglect these communicological aspects of memory in favor of the security of a pre-discursive historical reality which is assumed re-presentable with empirical or transcendental certitude. A post-modern rhetoric is necessary for understanding memory as a dynamic and interpretive sign function. The locations where meanings are generated by people though their interpretations of signs are called semiospheres. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as an excellent example of a semiosphere in which participants encounter the signs of specific past events. A semiotic phenomenological analysis illustrates how meaning emerges out of the dynamic relationship between communicative encounters with phenomena of memory as ontological choices of context, and informational experiences as epistemological choices within established historical contexts. I explicate memory as an embodied semiotic function based on a hierarchy of logical entailment. Semiotic objects within the museum are interpreted as icons, indices, and symbols, that emerge through choices made during existential encounters. Memory, as an interpretive process, functions in the space of intersubjectivity. In this context of intersubjectivity, memory reveals its ethical dimension. Modernist assumptions concerning the past generate an ethics based on “objective Truth.” A post-modern rhetoric is based on communication and a discursive responsibility to truthfulness. Such a responsibility is realized through the embodied participation of the person in the intersubjective construction of meaning as a member of a community of interpretation.
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