The Buried Giant and Memory Theory

Wow, apologies for the delay in posting this. I could have sworn I did. My brain is just a hot mess lately. So below is the material I went over in my presentation for The Buried Giant. Keep in mind, since I’ve been so heavily involved with memory theory and this book (last semester’s presentation and my thesis), I have more of an inclination to go in that direction when talking about the book, especially considering Ishiguro’s intent on examining memory.

However, that does not mean that you could not engage things like historical context or genre. Ishiguro makes a couple of points in the cited interviews about social conflicts that he drew inspiration from to engage memory. Additionally, there are aspects of the Arthurian Tradition or even The Romance (hint: Professor Sargent has a heavy interest in the romance) that you could use and tie in with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Arthurian: Knighthood, chivalry, etc
The Romance: The hunt (a lot of mysticism surrounding the hunt, literally for beasts or for maidens etc)

These examples are just additional angles that you could use that I’ve added after the fact of expanding memory theory.

Additionally, I’ve realized post presentation, that I did not tie TBG in with any of our other readings when regarding memory theory. If you guys have any ideas concerning that, feel free to comment, I’ll also take a second look and see what I can link to TBG via memory theory.

TBG and Memory Theory
Influences and motives

  1. Interview published in Contemporary Literature Vol. 30, No. 3. 1989 – Mason & Ishiguro

When talking about his second novel An Artist of the Floating World Ishiguro reveals what interests him for his writing.

“I’m interested in people who, in all sincerity, work very hard and perhaps courageously in their lifetimes toward something, fully believing that they’re contributing to something good, only to find that the social climage has done a topsy-turvy on them by the time they’ve reached the end of their lives. The very things they thought they could be proud of have now become things they have to be ashamed of.” (Mason and Ishiguro 339)

“But things like memory, how one uses memory for one’s own purposes, one’s own ends, those things interest me more deeply. And so, for the time being, I’m going to stick with the first person, and develop the whole business about following somebody’s thoughts around, as they try to trip themselves up or to hide from themselves.” (Mason and Ishiguro 347)

Artist of the Floating World 1986

  1. NPR interview – Scott Simon and Ishiguro


“I’ve had this idea of writing a story about historical memory or societal memory. You know, the question how do societies remember and forget particularly their dark secrets or dark memories?”

“So exactly the same questions that fascinate me about a society that buries memories of past actrocities seem to apply to marriage.”

  1. Guernica interview – Rebecca Rukeyser and Ishiguro


“Most of the poem […] was completely irrelevant to my book. […] What really sparked my imagination as far as The Buried Giant was concerned was that tiny little description of the country he was crossing.”


“[…] if somebody’s an enthusiast about the Arthurian legends […] then probably my book is a big disappointment.”


“I wanted it to be much more than just about societal memory of conflict situations. […] the same questions apply to a relationship. What about all the giants in personal memory that you want to keep buried? […] The role of shared memory is important in keeping the bonds together in a marriage, and in a family. But there is this question of what you do with the uncomfortable memories.”


“Just having Gawain there seemed to place The Buried Giant time-wise: where we were in relation to Arthur’s reign. […] I want to discourage people from going down that path and trying to find literary allusions: it’s just not going to work.”


Different views on Memory in TBG

Axl and Beatrice

“Promise, princess, you’ll not forget what you feel in your heart for me at this moment. […] Promise to keep what you feel for me this moment always in your heart, no matter what you see once the mist’s gone.” – Axl (258)

Gawain and Wistan

“Without this she-dragon’s breath, would peace ever have come? Look how we live now, sir! Old foes as cousins, village by village.” – Gawain (285)

“How can old wounds heal while maggots linger so richly? Or a peace hold for ever built on slaughter and a magician’s trickery? I see how devoutly you wish it, for your old horrors to crumble as dust. Yet they await in the soil as white bones for men to uncover.” – Wistan (286)

Wistan and Edwin

“Promise me you’ll hate the Briton till the day you fall from your wounds or the heaviness of your years.” – Wistan (243)

The Monks

“As men of Christ, it’s beyond them to use a sword or even poison. So they send down her those they wish dead, and in a day or two they’ll have forgotten they ever did so. […] By Sunday he may even have convinced himself he saved you from those soldiers. And the work of whatever prowls this tunnel, should it cross his mind, he’ll disown, or even call God’s will.” – Gawain (165)

Beatrice and Father Jonus

“Axl and I wish to have again the happy moments we shared together.” – Beatrice

“Yet the mist covers all memories, the bad as well as the good.” – Father Jonus

“We’ll have the bad ones come back too, even if they make us weep or shake with anger. For isn’t it the life we’ve shared?” – Beatrice (157)


Collective Memory Theory

Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945)

Started some of the major ideas in his book La Mémoire collective in English: On Collective Memory.

“Memory depends on the social environment.” (37)

Memory in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Perspectives from the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences

“Research has shown that, when we remember something with the future in mind, our retention is boosted – which chimes in with the research into survival narratives and memories discussed in Part III.” – Intro to Part IV (Groes) – legacy – basic survival


“Narration is a tool for changing the future, for triggering and realizing human desire.” – Chapter 24 (Bland) – legacy


“What does it mean for humans and social relationships if Alzheimer’s can wipe out an identity in no time.” – Intro to Part V (Groes) – amnesia


“[…] major cultural shift identified in Part II: we are living in a digital age, in which the impact of human memory loss is set in a context in which everything is remembered by machines. […] a society in which nothing is forgotten, while possibly undermining human memory.” Intro to Part V (Groes) – technology and memory/amnesia


“[…] an opportunity to restate what is important about the ability to forget, and its positive functions, from working through psychological trauma to creating a certain flexibility in terms of future expectation.” – Intro to Part V (Groes) – Benefits of forgetting


“There are two types of forgetting: unintentional forgetting, when we forget information naturally, and intentional forgetting, when we deliberately attempt to eliminate information from memory.” Chapter 29 (Brandt) – selective memory


“Of course, none of these writers are suggesting amnesia is preferable to a normally functioning memory. Instead they respond to […] Buñel’s memory-identity equation: ‘Life without memory is no life at all. […] Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing’. Revising Buñel’s equation, […] if life without memory doesn’t make a person ‘nothing’, what does it do?” – Chapter 33 (Tougaw) – Amnesia and Identity


“We are thus led increasingly to ask who and what it is appropriate to remember, and how it is appropriate to remember them.” – Chapter 35 (Coker and Yeung) – Collective memory vs individual memory (war)



Groes, Sebastian. Memory in the Twenty-First Century. New York. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York. Vintage Books, 2015.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. “The Persistence – And Impermanence – Of Memory In ‘The Buried Giant’.” NPR Author

Interviews, By Scott Simon, 2015. Web. Accessed Dec. 2016.

Mason, Gregory and Kazuo Ishiguro. “An Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro.” Contemporary Literature, Vol.

  1. 30. [University of Wisconsin Press] Autumn 1989. pp. 335-347.

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