Collective Memory and the Historical Past

Collective Memory and the Historical Past

Jeffrey Andrew Barash

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226399157

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


If collective remembrance is as old as human communal existence and the age-old practices that forge its cohesion, theoretical preoccupation with the phenomenon of collective memory is relatively recent. The present book accounts for this paradox through interpretation of the novel function accorded to collective memory which, in a modern context of discontinuity and dislocation, reoccupies the space that has been left vacant by the decline of traditional assumptions concerning human socio-political identity. In this situation, where memory is widely called upon as a source of collective cohesion, this book aims to elaborate a philosophical basis for the concept of collective memory and to delimit its scope in relation to the historical past. Extensive analysis is devoted to the complex modes of symbolic configuration of collective memory in the public sphere. These modes of symbolic configuration have undergone radical transformation over the past century that is both reflected and engendered by the new technologies of mass communication by virtue of their capacity to simulate direct experience and remembrance through the image. Such transformations make increasingly palpable the limited scope of collective memory, rooted in a rapidly changing context, in the face of an historical past beyond its pale. The growing awareness of these limits, however, and of the opacity of the historical past, need not fuel historical skepticism: as the novels of Walter Scott, Marcel Proust and W. J. Sebald serve to illustrate, it may place in evidence subtle nuances of temporal context that are emblematic of historical reality.