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Collective Memory and the Historical Past

Jeffrey Andrew Barash

Collective Memory and the Historical Past

Jeffrey Andrew Barash

280 pages | 15 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226399157 Published November 2016
E-book $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226399294 Published November 2016
There is one critical way we honor great tragedies: by never forgetting. Collective remembrance is as old as human society itself, serving as an important source of social cohesion, yet as Jeffrey Andrew Barash shows in this book, it has served novel roles in a modern era otherwise characterized by discontinuity and dislocation. Drawing on recent theoretical explorations of collective memory, he elaborates an important new philosophical basis for it, one that unveils important limitations to its scope in relation to the historical past.
           
Crucial to Barash’s analysis is a look at the radical transformations that the symbolic configurations of collective memory have undergone with the rise of new technologies of mass communication. He provocatively demonstrates how such technologies’ capacity to simulate direct experience—especially via the image—actually makes more palpable collective memory’s limitations and the opacity of the historical past, which always lies beyond the reach of living memory. Thwarting skepticism, however, he eventually looks to literature—specifically writers such as Marcel Proust, Walter Scott, and W. G. Sebald—to uncover subtle nuances of temporality that might offer inconspicuous emblems of a past historical reality.
 
Review Quotes
Choice
“Barash employs a philosophical method derived from Paul Ricoeur, Ernst Cassirer, and Reinhart Koselleck to argue, convincingly, that each generation encounters and interprets history from the perspective of a ‘horizon of temporality’ in which ‘webs of experience’ emerge. It is through these largely unnoticed webs of experience that each generation gains access to the past. Thus, Barash claims, there is an unbridgeable gap between the past as a lived experience and subsequent attempts to retrieve it from the vantage point of present experience. By demonstrating the fundamental difference between historical experience and the production of collective memory, Barash seeks to safeguard history from mythology. He provides a helpful introduction to the concept of memory as developed in Western philosophy, and in several chapters he applies his method to historical cases, most notably the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Though the book is deep and wide-ranging and the material is complex, the author’s prose is clear and accessible.Highly recommended.”
Doron Mendels, author of Memory in Jewish, Pagan and Christian Societies of the Graeco-Roman World
“Barash has not left any of the different disciplines of the humanities and social sciences untouched. Through this convincing treatise, he has brought our understanding of collective memory a great step forward. This is a pathbreaking work, extremely original and containing a wealth of analytical narrative embedded in a comprehensive world of knowledge. It is a masterpiece of scholarship.”
Ethan Kleinberg, author of Generation Existential
Collective Memory and the Historical Past is a must-read for scholars of the past, no matter their approach. In this comprehensive and lucid study, Barash tackles the most vexing questions that have plagued the fields of history and memory studies alike. Barash’s work is vibrant and thought-provoking, and it inspires the reader to contemplate the ways that ‘collective memory’ and the ‘historical past’ overlap, interweave, and yet must be seen as separate and distinctly defined categories.  In so doing, Barash develops an original theoretical approach to the phenomenon of collective memory that defines it precisely but also delimits the scope of the concept in relation to the historical past. It is a major accomplishment and the first intervention of its kind.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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