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ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

 Down Memory Lane Inc. - A visit to Graceland

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But such intimacy is short lived. It soon sets and freezes, for Graceland is above all an abstraction. Striving for the universal, pretending to belong to everyone, it reaches no one in particular, which is the price to pay, I believe, when the private is made public. At Graceland, memory has become stale, depersonalised. A marketable memory. Graceland deliberately sets aside Elvis, the man, in favour of Elvis, the commodity. Graceland, despite its origin, is an artificial place, a memory built from scratch. 
It does not result from a spontaneous upsurge, a natural desire to remember. Everything there is carefully organised. Elvis's memory is kept alive by means of celebrations and anniversaries. Thus in January 1997 there was a Birthday Banquet with former Elvis bandmates The Jordanaires, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana, as well as Sam Philips, his first producer. Every year, on January 8th also takes place the Elvis Presley Day Proclamation ceremony, on the front lawn of the mansion, with city and county mayors cutting the official birthday cake. In August it is time for the yearly Elvis Week, a dazzling array of events celebrating the life and career of Elvis, so we are told. Fittingly, Graceland was placed in 1991 on the National Register of Historic Places, a proof of the new status ascribed to popular culture in the American celebration of memory, and of the overlapping of the notions of history and memory.

Graceland is meant to be a faithful trace of the past, relying consequently on the ubiquitous recording tape, as logic would have it owing to the nature of Elvis's works. The visit of Graceland resorts increasingly to audio and video paraphernalia. An individual headset is provided for the visit that offers music and commentaries from Elvis himself, his wife and friends. A small theater shows a short film with highlights of Elvis's career as well as home videos, and a small Drive-in theater located in the automobile museum offers clips of Elvis's movies. Not forgetting the "Virtual Graceland CD-Rom" as well as several Internet sites. High-technology, high-fidelity means for an illusory attempt at achieving absolute faithfulness far removed from the necessarily subjective and selective process of memory.

To tell it all, to keep it all, to freeze life so as not to miss a single speck, such is the professed ideal. It results in a duplication of reality by its trace, two parallel times overlapping and eventually cancelling one another. Of the past, nothing remains, neither in the memory nor in the painstaking but hopeless reconstruction of by-gone days. The whole process in fact betrays a fear, a fear we should miss something important that would escape our attention, that would be gone and lost for ever. As we cannot decide what is and will be of importance, we accumulate, jut in case. 
Just in case it would become significant some day: hours of musical rehearsals in the studio, dozens of takes, footages of screen tests and rushes, miles of home video, all equally interesting, all equally meaningless, that we scrutinize with aching eyes and bleeding hearts in the hope that one overlooked second of sound or image may reveal the secret Elvis and open the door to understanding his real self. A vain quest.


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° Rubrique About The World