Emotional Modes of Autobiographical Memory: Heroes and Victims of Different Generations

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Natalia Gramatchikova
Yulia Zevako


The authors of this article share an interest in the emotional component of memory present in documentary evidence of the Soviet era and memoir narratives about it. The polarized reception of the historical context of the 1930–1980s led to the fact that the memory about heroes and “antiheroes” is recorded in two different types of archival materials, which in practice could be recording different stages of the same person’s life. Focusing on the concept of autobiographical memory, the authors of the article propose to consider through the categories of emotives the archival heritage of veterans of the era of industrialization and the reception of materials from criminal cases from the era of the Great Terror. The study draws on a collection of memoirs by veterans of a machine-building plant about the time of their youth and their contribution to the construction of the plant in 1929–1933 and on a corpus of semistructured interviews with the descendants of the repressed who had had a chance to examine their ancestors’ investigative cases. The research goal was to analyze, on the one hand, how the emotional modes of composition of the documents in the 1930s and in the 1960s–1980s affect the transmission of memory about the 1930s and, on the other hand, how the actors of intergenerational transmission deal with the polarized memorative context. The study comes to the conclusion that already at the stage of their composition, documents and ego documents of the Soviet era limited the emotional palette of the writer and that memoires by the industrialization-era workers were conditioned by their genre no less than were the texts of criminal cases. The change of historical context and the loss of the intended reader of both types of documents create the need for interpretive work for our contemporaries. Analysis of the memoires reveals some nonobvious causes of emotional reduction as well as the freest compositional positions for expressing emotions. During interviews the descendants of the repressed, faced with a lack of emotionality in the texts of criminal cases and positioning themselves to resist the affective style of interrogations and denunciations, talk about their bodily involvement in communication with the artifact that helps them experience empathy toward their relative. The authors conclude that Alison Landsberg’s concept of prosthetic memory is useful for autobiographical narratives about both “heroes” and “enemies.” The juxtaposition of documents from different eras, united by the frame of autobiographical memory, shows that “affective experience” of an (auto)biographical narrative can be obtained both through the resources of (auto)communicative memory, when the subject retrospectively comprehends their own life experience, and through the mechanisms of cultural memory— by stimulating imagination and emotions as a reaction to a “document of the epoch,” thanks to which the latter is endowed with personal meaning.

Article in English


Autobiography, Criminal Cases, Ego Documents, Memoires, Memory, Emotions, Victims of Political Repressions, Veterans, Victims, Heroes

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