Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates

Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates

Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates

Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates

Excerpt

The idea of memory runs through contemporary public life at high voltage, generating polemic and passionate debate in the media, in the spheres of politics and in the academy. Yet although the contemporary “presentness” of memory is evident, how this is to be understood remains a matter of dispute. It is not clear what meanings attach themselves to the generic conception of memory itself; and while in the academy there is a common belief that memory is “everywhere,” what this means remains an open matter. Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates constitutes one collective response to the contemporary salience of memory and to the controversies it has activated. Our purpose is to guide readers through the interdisciplinary fields of memory research. In doing so we aim to bring out into the open what, intellectually and politically, is at stake in contemporary debate.

The Politics of Memory

As we demonstrate in the chapters that follow there have been many divergent currents that have fed into the present preoccupation with memory. We can take here, as one starting point, the various investigations into the phenomenon of postmodernism that began to cohere in the 1980s. From this theoretical moment there emerged the notion that what most characterizes the times in which we live is a social amnesia, in which we, as modern subjects, are cut off from the pasts that have created us. In this account, the current fascination—or even obsession—with memory is ineluctably associated with the idea of its absence, atrophy, collapse, or demise. One version of this approach proposes that historical consciousness has been eroded by the recycling . . .

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