Memory on the Fritz: Panic in the Cold War Era – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Memory on the Fritz: Panic in the Cold War Era

Orr gives second lecture in 2007 Fisher Center Series

“Is memory a code to be broken or one to be written? Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Fisher Center Director Betty Bayer asked the audience filling the Geneva Room. Bayer introduced the second Fisher Center lecturer of the 2007 series, and to the audience’s surprise, “daddy does cybernetics began with intriguing video clips of television static snow, a fireplace, a Jacques Lacan lecture and others. As Syracuse University’s Professor of Sociology Jackie Orr began her talk, the audience soon realized that this was no ordinary lecture. Instead, Orr began intertwining the stories of social theorist Talcott Parsons, his daughter and cultural anthropologist Anne Parsons, the U.S. during the Cold War and her own personal memories, engaging the standing-room-only audience with “performance theory.

Using her unique hybrid of theory and theater, Orr set a historic backdrop for her performance of the U.S. during the Cold War. Citing historical events such as the Bikini Explosions, the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, and the FCDA’s “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow campaign in 1956, she explored the simultaneous panic and pursuit of calm in the Cold War era. “One of the major psychological effects of the A-Bomb was its ability to cause widespread panic and to demoralize an entire nation, Orr said during her lecture.

To understand the psychology and prevalent theory of the times, Orr mixed Cold War history with the thoughts and lives of the two Parsons. “Talcott Parsons’ personality system integrated Freud’s concept of the superego with Émile Durkheim’s normative theory in order to mediate communication and culture, the shared social symbols of a group, Orr explained. “Anne, Talcott’s daughter, studied with Jacques Lacan, combining psychoanalytic theory with cultural anthropology, borrowing some ideas from her father, in order to understand mental disease.

Orr moved smoothly between these two narratives and her own memories from childhood in Reading, Pa. “I think I stood in the darkness of the mid-1960s for some time, Orr said. She went on to say that like Talcott and Anne Parsons, as well as mathematician Norbert Weiner, she too was also trying to understand patterns: the patterns of her childhood, her father and the times that she grew up in. “I think I came out of the belly of my mother and into the belly of the U.S. military, Orr read during one of the prosaic portions of her lecture.

Interweaving the themes of mental disorder, technology, theory, panic and patterns, Orr tactfully brought her “performance theory to a conclusion, making it clear to all that there are many ways to study memory and gender.