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Thresholds of Personal Identity and Public Experience

Thresholds of Personal Identity and Public Experience

Chapter 3 Thresholds of Personal Identity and Public Experience
Collective Memory and the Historical Past
Jeffrey Andrew Barash
University of Chicago Press

This chapter aims to situate the "place" of remembered experience that has fallen into oblivion. In highlighting the modes of latency and of forgetting at the different personal, small group, and public levels, it draws on reflections notably from the works of Locke and Leibniz, Proust and Freud. On this basis, it interprets the unique status of collective remembrance in the public sphere, above all through identification of the specific modes of inadvertence, opacity, and oblivion lying beyond the scope of what is acknowledged to be publicly significant communal recollection. In the context of contemporary mass societies, this predicament is favored by the complexity and diffuseness of the public sphere that separates it from the direct experience and remembrance of individuals and small groups. Here forgetfulness and oblivion on a public scale, which are easily reinforced by ideological interests, highlight the principle paradox that the discourse of collective memory elicits: on one hand, group remembrance serves as a primary vehicle for political identification; on the other hand, the events on which remembrance focuses become ever more elusive as concrete contents of representation. It is this paradox that the present analysis seeks to elucidate.

Keywords:   involuntary memory, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, Marcel Proust, latent memory, forgetting, Henri Bergson, psychoanalysis

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