Committing the Future to Memory: History, Experience, Trauma

Committing the Future to Memory: History, Experience, Trauma

Committing the Future to Memory: History, Experience, Trauma

Committing the Future to Memory: History, Experience, Trauma

Synopsis

Whereas historical determinacy conceives the past as a complex and unstable network of causalities, this book asks how history can be related to a more radical future. To pose that question, it does not reject determinacy outright but rather seeks to explore how it works. In examining what it means to be "determined" by history, it also asks what kind of openings there might be in our encounters with history for interruptions, re-readings, and re-writings. Engaging texts spanning multiple genres and several centuries from John Locke to Maurice Blanchot, from Hegel to Benjamin Clift looks at experiences of time that exceed the historical narration of experiences said to have occurred in time. She focuses on the co-existence of multiple temporalities and opens up the quintessentially modern notion of historical succession to other possibilities. The alternatives she draws out include the mediations of language and narration, temporal leaps, oscillations and blockages, and therole played by contingency in representation. She argues that such alternatives compel us to reassess the ways we understand history and identity in a traumatic, or indeed in a post-traumatic, age.

Excerpt

In the preface to the second edition of the Science of Logic, Hegel refers to “the peculiar restlessness and distraction of our modern consciousness.” Although the tone of this statement makes it sound like something to be avoided or at any rate minimized, a moment’s reflection tells us that for Hegel, it is one of modernity’s irreducible and most definitive components. Superficial though it may be, restlessness is nonetheless also the forerunner of negativity, what he calls elsewhere the “seriousness, the suffering, the patience and work of the negative.” Finally, for Hegel, this restlessness is the active dimension without which there would be no movement, no change, only stasis, and finally the sickness that leads to wholesale alienation and despair.

Despite the fact that the Phenomenology of Spirit famously and notoriously ends with a difficult scene of memory, Hegel could not have predicted the extent to which his notion of restlessness would become so concretely manifest in a world saturated with memory. But indeed, the political, ethical, and epistemological questions regarding how we remember have become some of the most important, and some of the most disquieted, questions of our time. The demonstrable rise of secular practices of historical memory attests to this disquiet, as do the proliferation of theoretical attempts to understand the significance of this phenomenon.

As the diversity of the viewpoints presented in scholarship on memory attests, it is difficult to know exactly how to interpret this phenomenon—how to judge its social and cultural meanings, how to situate its explanation, or how to historicize its occurrence. But its . . .

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