Re-Membering the Black Atlantic: On the Poetics and Politics of Literary Memory

Re-Membering the Black Atlantic: On the Poetics and Politics of Literary Memory

Re-Membering the Black Atlantic: On the Poetics and Politics of Literary Memory

Re-Membering the Black Atlantic: On the Poetics and Politics of Literary Memory

Excerpt

It has become fashionable in recent years to proclaim the end of memory. “Memory is constantly on our lips,” argues the French cultural historian Pierre Nora, “because it no longer exists.” Nora sees us as captured in a moment of transition in which we are experiencing the inevitable replacement of 'memory' as “embodied in living societies” by an anonymous 'history'. Owing to the effects of globalization and the disintegration of traditional communities, we are about to enter an age that will be dominated by the “reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer.” It is because of this development that we are presently witnessing a boom in what Nora calls les lieux de mémoire, realms of memory. Among these he numbers archives, public holidays, monuments, historiography, and, together with many more, as if in an afterthought, literature. “In an epoch devoid of real novels,” Nora writes, literature is only left to “mourn” in the face of the great sell-out of memory to history.

The present study sets out to show that the reverberations between literature and memory are not quite so simple as this: literature not only challenges or sustains social dimensions of memory in many ways by preserving or subverting cultural meaning, or by commenting on or dispersing it. More than this, literature must also be reckoned as a special form of cultural memory in itself: as a complex lieu de mémoire with its very own forms and strategies of observation and writing from older memories and their diverse representations. But on what premisses does this complex mnemonic machine called literature work? And what are the shortcuts it takes to the social

Pierre Nora, “General Introduction: Between Memory and History,” in The
Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past
, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman, tr. Arthur
Goldhammer, vol. 1: Conflicts and Divisions (Lieux de mémoire, 1992; New York:
Columbia UP, 1996): 1.

Nora, “General Introduction: Between Memory and History,” 3.

“General Introduction: Between Memory and History,” 20.

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