Unreal Nature

May 18, 2019

What We Are No Longer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:12 am

… we take shards of the past and try to glue them together …

This is from ‘Realms of Memory’ by Pierre Nora (1984):

… Now that we no longer have a single explanatory principle, we find ourselves in a fragmented universe. At the same time, nothing is too humble, improbable or inaccessible to aspire to the dignity of historical mystery. We used to know whose children we were; now we are the children of no one and everyone.

[line break added] Since the past can now be constructed out of virtually anything, and no one knows what tomorrow’s past will hold, our anxious uncertainty turns everything into a ‘trace,’ a potential piece of evidence, a taint of history with which we contaminate the innocence of everything we touch. When we look at the past, we take violent possession of what we know is no longer ours. Since we no longer know what we are looking for, we have to narrow our focus.

[line break added] Broad, panoramic views are no longer admissible; we eschew fragments as well as frescoes. Instead we spotlight selected elements of the past, concentrating on ‘representative samples.’ Our memory is intensely retinal, powerfully televisual. The much-touted ‘return of the narrative’ in recent historical writing has to be linked to the ubiquity of visual images and film in contemporary culture ā€” even if this new narrative is very different from traditional narrative, which was episodic and self-contained.

… from countless ‘microhistories’ we take shards of the past and try to glue them together, in the hope that the history we reconstruct might seem more like the history we experience. One might try to sum all this up by coining a term like ‘mirror memory,’ but the problem is that mirrors only reflect identical copies of ourselves, whereas what we seek in history is difference ā€” and through difference, a sudden revelation of our elusive identity. We seek not our origins but a way of figuring out what we are from, what we are no longer.

-Julie

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