Cultural Memory

These thoughts are all very embryonic, so I’d be interested in any more ideas or refining of these if anyone wants to add to them.


Finding a book this weekend has sparked a whole new train of thought for me.

I bought it because I am connected to Belarus (per a comment by my father some years ago about his grandfather), and I was curious what kinds of tales were “mine.”

The results have been fascinating.

Some ordinary folktale elements that have always seemed silly to me (non sequiturs, not recognizing people you’ve met before, not following life-saving directions) are less common. Haven’t found them yet, actually.

It feels exciting in a strange way– making me wonder if my preferences might have been shaped somehow by a cultural construct that was already in the stories of my roots.

What if I felt no need to reshape them because they pleased me, but I was pleased by them because they shaped the thoughts and lives of forgotten ancestors?

The idea is that I might actually like these stories because they developed under the same preferences I was (perhaps) born with.


Now, what I find so intriguing is this idea of preferences being somehow genetic.

I read once that most people’s favorite colors are colors that look good on them. Shades that are attractive with their coloring.

As looks are easily accepted as genetically directed ;-) I extrapolate from this that favorite colors are, too some extent, also.

If you once accept that this one preference could have genetic roots, it opens all kinds of possibilities.

It does, of course, bring in the question of nature vs nurture, but it also delights my imagination to think there could be some kind of “memory” deep in me, connecting me to people and ways of thinking that I’ve been generations removed from.

2 thoughts on “Cultural Memory

  1. Hmmm… very interesting! I’ve always defined ‘culture’ as ‘shared experience.’ So, for instance, when you immigrate to a new country your culture actually changes from that in your home country because you are no longer a part of their shared experiences as time goes on. Your experiences are shared with the people of your new country. So there’s almost a time marker on your cultural history that expresses a definite change. The shared experiences prior to leaving will always be the same, but as you integrate into the new country/culture your culture will begin to change in ways different from how it would in your home country.

    But if aspects of that are passed down from generation to generation, we find ourselves in some kind of Jung-ing world. And I’m not sure I give much credence to Carl Jung (but then, I’m no expert). Perhaps those preferences you refer to are distinct from Jung’s shared consciousness idea. Maybe there’s some happy in-between.

    Or could it be that your story preferences come from the way your great-grandfather told stories? And then generations to come used those same story-telling formats and models? Maybe there’s some weird balance between nurture and nature – or a combining of the two that we tend to shy away from in our tendency to black/white explanations of the world around us…

    Great thinking post!

  2. Hoo– Jungian, huh?

    Yeah, that would be out of my depth too. But, in my own mind at least, what I’m thinking of isn’t as big as archetype.

    I think I’m asking if there are things (like skin color, or nose-shape) that are shaped by genetics but aren’t visual:

    Could generations of nurture be enough to impress invisible things upon the nature in such a way that they could then be passed down?

    I’m still thinking on that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *