Lost Time: On Remembering and Forgetting in Late Modern Culture (Critical Perspectives on Modern Culture)
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What is the value of memory in human culture? More specifically, what role should remembering―and forgetting―play in our daily lives? These are the central questions that David Gross addresses in this original and thought-provoking book. For centuries, Gross points out, remembering was considered essential not only to the perpetuation of society but to the maintenance of individual existence. Survival often depended on the memory of how to perform specific tasks, what values to honor, and what personal or collective identity to assume. Remembering, in short, put one in touch with the things that mattered, engendering wholeness and wisdom. Forgetting, on the other hand, led to emptiness, ignorance, and death. With the advent of modernity, however, doubts about the value of memory grew while the negative implications of forgetting were reevaluated. In many quarters, forgetting came to be defended for the way it frees us from the past, opening the door to new perceptions, new possibilities, and new beginnings. Now, in late modernity, Gross argues, we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. For the first time in history, we are able to decide, without the pressure of social or cultural constraints, whether we want to remember or forget and to live our lives accordingly. But which is the better choice? Should we build our lives upon the meanings and values of a faded past? If so, what ought we to remember, and for what purpose? Or should we instead opt to forget what has come before and focus our attention on the present and future, thereby perpetually reinventing ourselves and the world we inhabit? According to Gross, our answers to these questions will determine not only who we are but what we will become as we pass from late modernity into the terra incognita of the "postmodern" age.
even ordinary citizens of the Roman past. If contemporary individuals recalled and took to heart the meanings of such exempla, the Romans reasoned, they would be inspired to repeat them in the present. In this way, memory would produce virtuous conduct, or at least the type of conduct that the Roman state con sidered virtuous, for it was the state above all that benefited when the populace remembered or reenacted heroic ideals. At the same time, Roman educational insti~utio~s an~ the very
doctrines of the Catholic Church as they developed over the centuries, since it was one of the principles of faith that these had to be embraced if o ne was to have a chance of gaining eternal salvation. Besides the new kinds of religious memories, older types of memories reappea red in n ew guises. In a ristocratic circles during the twelfth and thir- 95 [ [ [ • [ I I COLLECT IV E R EM EMBERIN G AND FORGETTING .. '. MEMORY IN HI STO RI CA L PER SPECTIV E ~ ·.'1 I I I I· I I I i. I
Without Ithaca he would not be Odysseus, and if h e were not Odysseus he would literally be, as he later says to the giant Polyphemus, (( no bo dy.)) A second and more complicated kind of memory that grips Odysseus is of his own personal commitment to return regardless of adversity. This memory of a resolution he recalls time and again in the course of his travels, for it is clear that fate alone will not lead him back to Ithaca. To get there h e must first will his way back, and in addition he
variety of means to evoke the m emories it considered most appropriate. It was especially effective in the interpretative control it had over (1) the key sacred texts of the Western tradition , along with the methods of exegesis designed to explain their meaning; (2) the pivotal signs, symbols, and images that m ade it possible to render the past intelligible to the unlettered millions who relied o n the Church fo r the construction of values; (3) the most important rites, rituals, and
that lie directly at hand. As advocates of forgetting have long contended, it is these opportunities and pos- ;- •' sibilities that should be the primary focus of one's attention, since that which is coming into being will in the long run be more important for the individual than what has already passed away. Each of these alleged benefits of forgetting seems convincing on its own terms, which may be one reason why the pro-forgetting outlook appears to be the prevalent one in the Western world