The Me Who Knew It

On Alison Winter’s Memory: Fragments of a Modern History, and issues of memory in the 20th century.

Underlying the compelling feeling that we are our memories is a further common-sense assumption that our entire lives are accurately retained somewhere in the brain ‘bank’ as laid-down memories of our experience, and that we retrieve our lives and selves from an ever expanding stockpile of recollections. Or we can’t, and then that feeling that it’s on the tip of our tongue, or there but just out of range, still encourages us to think that everything we have known or done is in us somewhere, if only our digging equipment were sharper.

In Somalia

Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.