Kim Goldberg / Neoliberalism & the Death of Memory

The planetary collapse is not my fault – Google ate my memory.

In The George Stanley Issue of TCR, Reg Johanson deftly dissects neoliberalism (its restructuring of our political, social, economic and personal worlds, and its erasure of history, geography and ultimately time itself) to broaden the context for our reading of Stanley’s fin de siècle poetry.

The juggernaut of neoliberalism has resulted in a variety of narrative closures – a “cutting loose from the moorings of history” – to leave us all adrift (individually and collectively) in an endless, homogenized present of condos, credit cards and no causality. “Remembering seems to be a trap for the poet, a death to be struggled against,” says Johanson.

Indeed, memory may be the ultimate casualty of the neoliberal conquest. In last week’s headlines we learned that Google has stolen our memory. Which is to say, humans no longer remember information but simply remember where, or how, to retrieve it online. Or, in the soothing parlance of neoliberalism, meant to lull us back to sleep, we have merely “externalized our memory” for ease of access, and are now engaging in “transactive memory” rather than relying on that crusty old trope of storing information in our heads.

Another related (albeit more regional) development was the recent news that UBC – the province’s oldest and largest university – is ‘rebranding’ the UBC Bookstore to the semantically vacuous ‘UBC Central.’ The former name “does not accurately reflect the wide range of products and services offered in the store,” we are told. (Whereas a name evoking a train station or sewage treatment hub apparently does.) Not surprisingly, a petition has been started to retain the original name.

The name change of the UBC Bookstore is emblematic of neoliberalism’s devaluation of text, authorship, and the human pursuit of knowledge and art.

For centuries in China, the written word was so revered that any waste paper with writing on it was taken for burning to a special Pagoda of Compassionating the Characters. This practice died out in the 20th century. Perhaps it is time to revive it. Beside UBC Central, we could dedicate a Pagoda of Compassionating the Neoliberal Agenda.

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