The DeLorean

Posted: February 15, 2012 by Leftelep in Uncategorized

An over-arching theme for this week revolves around the idea that space and time is communicated through objects. Past, present, and future in this process become positional lenses of their own, filtering our perception of how we observe the meanings of an object’s creation and adoption. To communicate with the future, we can create heirlooms (cook books) that depict what memories and knowledge we want to pass on from the present. Additionally, in the present we tailor, whether purposefully or implicitly, past objects to fit our current needs. Often this is simply a limit of context. As an example, the commodities of the former GDR were taken up in East Germany in order to deal with new systems of power post-unification/westernization of German society (Rain, 2004). What these readings, essentially, build on is the idea that the everyday, the mundane, and likely the ‘authentic,’ is some(thing) that is often not held in focus, and that only when the object becomes askew, or odd, do they take on a conscious role as identifiers in our lives. Time and space creates such a distortion. Hirsch and Spitzer (2006) illustrate this process as a punctum – an emergent point of reference in which all perceptions, contexts, and memories overlap and make ‘hyper-visible’ particular understandings that suit our needs. Although the reading from Hirsch and Spitzer (2006) focuses less on commodities than the other two do, there are still some prevailing themes that emerge from them all, particularly in terms of relocating and re-negotiating memory.

Reframing the Past in the Present

In Berdahl (1999). the elimination of old GDR culture and its objects allowed them to be re-casted among a new backdrop, and a utopianesque reconfiguration of the past to be reflective of difficult societal transitions within the present. It was not until these items were gone – and lost their status as mundane – that nostalgia (here Ostalgie) set in to take new value. Items’ biographies started with the social and communal dimensions of production, then moved through being symbols of a lesser culture to that of representing nostalgia for the past (Berdahl, 1999). While the point of Berdahl (1999) discussion is to draw out how commodities can take on critical roles in forming identities in response to systems of power, the findings that binds this reading to the others is how memory, thus history, is formed through interpretations of objects as they pass through time and space. While Hirsch and Spitzer’s (2006) article show us how objects as heirlooms can be used to pass on selected memories to their female kin in the future. However, the context of the present leaves them suseptable to contemporary re-negotiations, and thus, memories of the past cannot be understood in the present as they were intended.

Question: If heirhooms are intended to communicate the past, through the present for the future, is it not interesting to consider what futures their crafters invision?


A position which I found to be of particular interesting is how Hirsch and Spitzer (2006) use their objects, their makers and receivers, but also themselves as the subject of study. The article showed that not only does time and space lend to various receptions of objects in different contexts, studies around this phenomena are equally subjected to various lenses as well. In this case feminism made certain aspects of gender become ‘hyper-visible’ and distort the intention of the miniature book’s intentions. This approach is fascinating, as the intention of using themselves as the object of study was not revealed until the end, when I had already found the assuming of subjects’ (i.e. peoples’) implicit intentions – who are not in the position to speak of themselves – problematic.

Question: How much can we really say about the past if we are incapable of seeing it through their own eyes?

History may best be categorized as observing what distortions of the past best fit our present needs, as well as those we assume to be important in the future.


Berdahl (1999) and Rains (2004) open up some discussion as to if the commodity can be authentic. Rains (2004) believes we should consider the intentions of its production and the distance the consumer has from it. Rains (2004), furthermore, states that kitsch is born through standardizations of identity productions.  Berdahl (1999), on the other hand, wants us to look at the way commodities are taken up in new contexts, and why. Each framing gives a different view in which to assess the relevance of commodities that are intentionally produced for diasporic purposes. Berdahl (1999), however, alludes to a question we can begin to ask ourselves, one that is alluded to in the article, yet, is not clearly stated.

Question: In what situations can an object be diasporic if movement is not necessary to omit a sense of loss and displacement? Is travel necessary?

I end this discussion by bring the point back to memory and its relationship with time and space. As was shown through these readings, past, present, and future, each create their own frames in which to translate memory through objects. I name this week’s discussion, in inspiration to Berhahl’s (1999) own sub-title of Back to the Future. Only, here, I name the vessel in which Marty McFly will use to bind these worlds in the 1985 Back to the Future film: I refer her to the DeLorean.

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