Remembering events allows for reconciliation and the ability for history to reinvent itself. Forgetting risks reconciliation to be impossible.
(Gerrit W. is a senior associate at CSIS in Washington, D.C., and assistant to the president at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.The Beginning of History: Remembering and Forgetting as Strategic Issues, The Washington Quarterly, Volume 24, Number 2, Spring 2001, p. 56)
Some things cannot and must not be forgotten. It is normal to remember, particularly attitudes and actions that must never be repeated. It is also normal, over time, to forget—or at least to remember more positively and allow a process of reconciliation to begin. In some cases, the issue may not be so much remembering and forgetting as remembering and not remembering. When something cannot be forgotten but has been remembered and reconciled, it ceases to be the focus of conscious attention. When reconciliation has consciously occurred, history can reinvent itself. It can begin anew. It does not leave familiar foundations but can build a new future. The emotional and geographic reach of remembering and forgetting issues is increasing, as is their impact on public perceptions and popularly determined strategic alignments. To make history is, by definition, to describe the past from the perspective of the future. To determine the future is, at some point, to make history. At the crucial nexus of each government’s and each country’s political battle to determine how the past will shape the future, remembering and forgetting issues will provide the vocabulary for and the battlefield on which strategic alignments in the contemporary world will turn. We are witnessing the beginning of a new history.
Aff – Totalizing Histories Good
There is no such thing as a myth o the frontier, and universal truths are necessary to maintain the balance of history.
(Walter Benn Michaels author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You who never was there": Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust, Narrative Vol. 4. No. 1, pg 1-3 (Jan., 1996), DA: 6/25/11, CP)
At the same time, however, from Veyne's perspective, the answer to the question, do the Americans believe their myths, must be no. For once we recog nize that, as he puts it, "'reality' is the child of the constitutive imagination of our tribe" (113), we must also recognize that "truth," as we ordinarily conceive it (in the sense, say, that we might think our myths true and the Greek myths false) "does not exist" (115). Indeed, "As long as we speak of the truth, we will under stand nothing of culture and will never manage to attain the same perspective on our culture as we have on past centuries, when people spoke of gods and myths" (113). So if, on the one hand, we must believe our myths, on the other hand, we must not believe that they are true. That is the whole point of "culture" as Veyne understands it: "culture, without being false, is not true either" (127). And while the Greeks, "of course," believed their myths, insofar as in believing their myths they believed them to be true, they were, of course, mistaken. We, who know that our culture is neither true nor false, also believe our myths but we believe them in the right way; in fact, insofar as "our perspective" on our own culture is "the same" as our perspective on the cultures of "past centuries, when people spoke of gods and myths," we must not only believe our own myths, we must also believe the myths of the past. So not only must the Greeks have believed their myths and must the Americans believe theirs, the Americans must believe the Greek myths too. And, in fact, at least some Americans do. In his 1987 best-seller, Commu nion, Whitley Strieber argues that the alien "visitors" who on several occasions have made their presence known to him and who look, he thinks, like the an cient goddess Ishtar, are probably the originals for "the whole Greek pantheon" (121). His theory is that humans, unable to deal with "the stark reality of the visitor experience" ("the bad smells, the dreadful food, and the general sense of help lessness"), dress it up in what he calls "a very human mythology," one that pre serves the essential truth of "the visitor experience" while at the same time making it more palatable. But Communion is subtitled A True Story rather than An Es say on the Constitutive Imagination; whether or not the Greeks, in believing their myths, believed them to be true, Whitley Strieber does. His memories of his own experience count as testimony to their truth not only because they provide modern analogies for ancient myths but because they may be understood to pro vide more direct evidence: "Do my memories come from my own life," he won ders, "or from other lives lived long ago, in the shadowy temples where the grey goddess reigned?" (123). If they come from his own life, they provide evidence that god-like creatures are currently interacting with humans and they provoke the reflection that such interactions may have taken place also in the past; if they come from lives lived long ago, they provide evidence that god-like creatures have always interacted with humans and so that the old mythologies are not only compatible with recent experience but true. But how does the fact that some Americans believe the Greek myths shed any light on the question of whether Americans believe their own myths? It might, of course, be argued that the belief in "visitors" is an American myth and so that, for people like Whitley Strieber, believing in the Greek myths is a way of believing American myths. In my view, however, the fact that Whitley Strieber believes in the Greek pantheon is less relevant to American mythology than the question he raises in the course of stating that belief: "Do my memories come from my own life or from other lives lived long ago?" For it is this question, I want to suggest, that lies at the heart of the myths Americans believe insofar as it is in attempting to answer this question?do our memories come from our own lives or from other lives lived long ago?that Americans can come to think of themselves as distinctively American. "History is to the nation," Arthur Schle singer Jr. has recently written, "rather as memory is to the individual. As an individual deprived of memory becomes disoriented and lost ... so a nation denied a conception of its past will be disabled in dealing with its present . . . As the means of defining national identity, history becomes a means of shaping history" (20). Memory is here said to constitute the core of individual identity; national memory is understood to constitute the core of national identity. In sofar, then, as individuals have a national as well as an individual identity, they must have access not only to their own memories but to the national memory; they must be able to remember not only the things that happened to them as in dividuals but the things that happened to them as Americans. The way they can do this, Schlesinger says, is through history. History, in other words, can give us memories not only of what Strieber calls our "own" lives but of "other lives lived long ago." And it is in giving us these memories that history gives us our "iden tity." Indeed, it is because our relation to things that happened to and were done by Americans long ago is the relation of memory that we know we are Americans. We learn about other people's history; we remember our own.
A reject of universal histories is universal in and of itself. The Alternative’s method cannot universally work for all people – Native American history offers some incite.
(Walter Benn Michaels author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You who never was there": Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust, Narrative Vol. 4. No. 1, pg 4-5 (Jan., 1996), DA: 6/25/11, CP)
So American mythology has less (although, as we shall see, not nothing) to do with the belief in aliens (space aliens, anyway) than with the belief that we can remember "other lives lived long ago," or perhaps?to put the point more neutrally? than with our ways of talking as if we remembered "other lives lived long ago." For, whether or not the belief that we can remember such lives is wide spread, talk about remembering such lives is extremely widespread. To stick for another moment to texts that may, to an academic audience, seem marginal, Greg Bear's science fiction novel, Blood Music (1985), imagines the restructuring of blood cells so as to enable them to perform a kind of memory transfer, first from father to son?"The memory . . . was there and he hadn't even been born, and he was seeing it, and then seeing their wedding night" (211)?and then more generally?"And his father went off to war . . . and his son watched what he could not possibly have seen. And then he watched what his father could not possibly have seen." "Where did they come from?" he asks about these memories, and when he is told, "Not all memory comes from an individual's life," he realizes that what he is encountering is "the transfer of racial memory" (212) and that now, in "his blood, his flesh, he carried . . . part of his father and mother, parts of people he had never known, people perhaps thousands of years dead" (217). Blood Music imagines as science what Communion, identifying its "visitors" with the "Greek pantheon" and speculating that they are the "gods" who created us, imagines as religion. But both Blood Music and Communion should probably, as I suggested above, be considered marginal texts, not because they haven't been read by many (Communion, at least, has been read by hundreds of thousands) but because their account of what Blood Music calls "racial memory" is, in a certain sense, significantly anachronistic. By "racial," Greg Bear means "human"; it's the human race, not the white or the black or the red race that his transfusions of blood unite. And while it is true that, in an amazing moment, Whitley Strieber speaks of "visitor culture" (297) and imagines our encounter with it along vaguely multi cultural lines (it may be only "apparently superior"; we will come to understand "its truth" by understanding its "weaknesses" as well as its "strengths"), it is es sential to remember that the "visitors" he has in mind are not merely foreigners. 4 Walter Strieber does produce the familiar nativist gesture of imagining himself a Native American, the "flower" of his "culture" crushed by "Cortez"-like invaders but the vanishing race for which he is proleptically nostalgic is, like Greg Bear's, human rather than American. It would only make sense to understand Communion's aliens as relevant to the question of American identity if we were to understand them as allegories of the aliens threatening American identity. Insofar, however, as the apparatus of the allegory requires the redescription of differences between humans as differences between humans and others, it has the effect of establish ing the human as an internally undifferentiated category and thus of making the designation of some humans as American irrelevant. In Communion and Blood Music, the emergence of "racial memory," of a history made almost literally universal, unites us all. So the technologies of memory imagined in Blood Music and Communion provide an image, but only a partial image, of what is required by Schlesinger's invocation of history as memory. If the obvious objection to thinking of history as a kind of memory is that things we are said to remember are things that we did or experienced whereas things that are said to have taken place in the histori cal past tend to be things that were neither done nor experienced by us, Blood Music and Communion imagine ways in which history can be turned into mem ory. But they don't meet Schlesinger's requirement that this history be national. Which is to say that they don't deploy the transformation of history into memory on behalf of the constitution of identity; in Communion, the remembered past is merely a testament to the visitors' persistence; in Blood Music, the moment in which the past can be remembered actually marks the disappearance of national ity. It is instead in a much more important and influential text of 1987, Toni Morrison's Beloved, that Schlesinger's identification of memory, history and national identity is given a definitive articulation. And this is true despite the fact that Beloved, according to Morrison, is a story about something no one wants to remember: "
The Alternative creates a new violence universal framework from which people understand history = the Truth of history is key for liberation and political mobility
(Walter Benn Michaels author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You who never was there": Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust, Narrative Vol. 4. No. 1, pg 7-8 (Jan., 1996), DA: 6/25/11, CP)
If, in other words, the minimal condition of the historian's activity is an in terest in the past as an object of study, Stephen Greenblatt's account of the ori gins of his vocation?"I began with the desire to speak with the dead"?and of the nature of that vocation?"literature professors are salaried, middle-class sha mans" (1)?both insist on a relation to the past (he calls it a "link") that goes beyond that minimal condition, and beyond also (it's this going beyond that the model of the shaman is meant to indicate) various standard accounts of the con tinuity between past and present. Greenblatt is not, that is, interested in the kind of continuity offered by the claim that events in the past have caused conditions in the present or in the kind of continuity imagined in the idea that the past is enough like the present that we might learn from the past things that are useful in the present.3 Indeed, the interest proclaimed here has almost nothing to do with taking the past as an object of knowledge?what he wants is to speak with the dead, "to re-create a conversation with them," not to find out or explain what they did. And although he himself proclaims this ambition a failed one, from the standpoint of the heightened continuity that the new historicism requires, the terms of failure are even more satisfying than success would be: "Even when I came to understand that in my most intense moments of straining to listen all I could here was my own voice, even then I did not abandon my desire. It was true that I could hear only my own voice, but my own voice was the voice of the dead . . ." (1). If what you want is a "link" with the dead that is better achieved by speaking with them than by studying them (which is achieved, that is to say, by understanding studying them as a way of speaking with them), then the dis covery that what one hears when one hears the dead speak is actually the sound of one's "own voice" can't really count as a disappointment. "My own voice was the voice of the dead"; the link envisioned in conversation is only made stronger by the discovery that the conversation is with oneself. For both Morrison and Greenblatt, then, history involves the effort to make the past present, and the ghosts of Beloved and Shakespearean Negotiations are the figures for this effort, the transformation of history into memory, the de ployment of history in the constitution of identity. If, then, we ask a slightly re vised version of the question whether the Americans believe their myths?which myths do the Americans believe??the answer turns out to be not visitors, not blood transfusions, not biological races, not even exactly history as such but his tory as memory. To put the point in this way is no longer to say with Veyne that the difference between myth and history is erased insofar as the truths of both myth and history are revealed as truths constituted by the imagination. For al though this idealism is, as we all know, widespread today, and although it does succeed in establishing, at least by the back door (we don't get our identity from history, history gets its identity from us), the desired link between past and pres ent, the fact that that link must be imposed on the past before it can be derived from it makes it less promising as a ground of identity?if we create our history then any history might be made ours. So what makes our commitment to history a commitment to myth is not our sense that the history we learn is true in (and only in) the same way that the Greeks thought their myths were true; what makes our history mythological is not our sense that it is constituted but our sense that it is remembered and, when it is not remembered, forgotten.4 Without the idea of a history that is remembered or forgotten (not merely learned or unlearned), the events of the past can have only a limited relevance to the present, providing us at most with causal accounts of how things have come to be the way they are, at least with objects of antiquarian interest. It is only when it's reimagined as the fabric of our own experience that the past can be come the key to our own identity. A history that is learned can be learned by anyone (and can belong to anyone who learns it); a history that is remembered can only be remembered by those who first experienced it and it must belong to them. So if history were learned not remembered, then no history could be more truly ours than any other. Indeed, no history, except the things that had actually happened to us, would be truly ours at all. This is why the ghosts of the new historicism are not simply figures for his tory, they are figures for a remembered history. But this is also why there is a problem in thinking about these ghosts as figures. For without the ghosts to function as partners in conversation rather than objects of study, without rememories that allow "you who never was there" (36) access to experiences otherwise available to "only those who" were there, history can no more be remembered than it can be forgotten. The ghosts cannot, in other words, be explained as metaphoric representations of the importance to us of our history because the history cannot count as ours and thus can have no particular importance to us without the ghosts. It is only when the events of the past can be imagined not only to have consequences for the present but to live on in the present that they can become part of our experience and can testify to who we are. So the ghosts are not merely the figures for history as memory, they are the technology for his tory as memory ?to have the history, we have to have the ghosts. Remembered history is not merely described or represented by the ghosts who make the past Continuity is turned into identity. You who neve ours, it is made possible by them. Beloved's ghosts are thus as essential to its historicism as Communion's visitors are to its New Age mysticism; indeed, Be loved's historicism is nothing but the racialized and, hence, authorized version of Communion's mysticism. Without the visitors, the remains of UFOs are just fragments of old weather balloons; without the ghosts, history is just a subject we study.5 It is only accounts like Sethe's of how other people's memories can be come our own that provide the apparatus through which our history can, as Ar thur Schlesinger puts it, define our identity.
A refusal to look back on history leads for horrific events like the Holocaust to be trivialized
(Walter Benn Michaels author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You who never was there": Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust, Narrative Vol. 4. No. 1, pg 8-9 (Jan., 1996), DA: 6/25/11, CP)
Indeed, there is, precisely from this perspective, a certain hostility to the idea that the Holocaust is the sort of thing that can be known. Claude Lanz mann, the maker of Shoah, has insisted that "the purpose of Shoah is not to transmit knowledge" and has instead characterized the film as "an incarnation, a resurrection" (quoted in Felman, 213-14), thus identifying the ambitions of Shoah in terms that we may understand as characteristically New Historicist: the incar nated dead are the ones with whom Stephen Greenblatt wishes to speak. But where, in the New Historicism, understanding the past is at worst an irrelevance and, at best, an aid to remembering it, understanding the Holocaust seems to Lanzmann an "absolute obscenity" and to try to "learn the Holocaust" is, in fact, to "forget" it ("Seminar" 85). The representations and explanations of historians, he thinks, are "a way of escaping," "a way not to face the horror" ("Obscenity" 481); what the Holocaust requires is a way of transmitting not the normalizing knowledge of the horror but the horror itself. And it is this "transmission"?what Shoshana Felman calls "testimony"?that the film Shoah strives for and that, according to Felman, is the project of the major literary and theoretical texts of the post-World War Two period. But how can texts transmit rather than merely represent "horror?" How, as Felman puts it, can "the act of reading literary texts" be "related to the act of fac ing horror?" (2) If it could, then, of course, reading would become a form of wit nessing. But it is one thing, it seems, to experience horror and another thing to read about it; the person who reads about it is dealing not with the experience of horror but with a representation of that experience. And Felman has no wish to deny this difference; on the contrary, she wishes to insist upon it and it is out of her insistence that she produces her contribution to the theory of testimony. For when testimony is "simply relayed, repeated or reported," she argues, it "loses its function as a testimony" (3). So in order for testimony to avoid losing its proper function, it must be "performative" (5); it must "accomplish a speech act" rather than simply "formulate a statement." Its subject matter must be "enacted" rather than reported or represented. The problem of testimony is thus fundamentally a problem about "the relation between language and events" (16). Language that represents or reports events will fail as testimony, will fail, that is, to be properly "performative" or "literary." Language that is itself an "act" and that therefore can be said to "enact" rather than report events will succeed. The reader of the "performative" text will be in the position not of someone who reads about the "horror" and understands it; he or she will be in the position of "facing horror." But how can a text achieve the performative? How can a text cease merely to represent an act and instead become the act it no longer represents? The idea of the performative is, of course, drawn from Austin's speech act theory, where it is famously instantiated in the marriage ceremony: "When I say, before the regis trar or altar, etc., T do,' I am not reporting on a marriage: I am indulging in it" (6). Austin's opposition between reporting and indulging anticipates (in a differ ent key) Felman's opposition between reporting and enacting.
Faliure to look back on the Holocaust causes a replication of events and mass genocide
(Walter Benn Michaels author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004). PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "You who never was there": Slavery and the New Historicism, Deconstruction and the Holocaust, Narrative Vol. 4. No. 1, pg 10-11 (Jan., 1996), DA: 6/25/11, CP)
This anti-essentialist Jewishness is disarticulated from the idea of a Jewish race and also, albeit less sharply, from the idea of a Jewish religion. Many of those who think of themselves as Jews do not think that they are Jews because they have Jewish blood and are, in fact, skeptical of the very idea of Jewish blood. For them, as for many members of other races (so-called), cultural inher itance takes the place of biological inheritance. And many of those who think of themselves as Jews do not think that they are Jews because they believe in Juda ism. But by redescribing certain practices that might be called religious (circum cision, for example) as cultural, Jewishness can sever their connection to Judaism. Thus, Jews can give up the belief in Jewish blood and give up the belief in a Jewish God; what they can't give up is Jewish culture. Hence the significance of the Holocaust and of the widespread insistence that Jews remember it and hence the importance of the idea that "understanding" the Holocaust is a kind of "obscenity." For the prohibition against understanding the Holocaust is at the same You who never was there" 13 and this requirement?fulfillable through technologies like the deconstructive per formative?makes it possible to define the Jew not as someone who has Jewish blood or who believes in Judaism but as someone who, having experienced the Holocaust, can?even if he or she was never there?acknowledge it as part of his or her history. And just as remembering the Holocaust is now understood as the key to preserving Jewish cultural identity, the Holocaust itself is now retrospectively re configured as an assault on Jewish cultural identity. "The commanding voice at Auschwitz," Lionel Rubinoff writes, "decrees that Jews may not respond to Hit ler's attempt to destroy totally Judaism by themselves cooperating in that destruc tion. In ancient times, the unthinkable Jewish sin was idolatry. Today, it is to re spond to Hitler by doing his work" (150). Jews who might today be understood to be doing Hitler's work are not, of course, murdering other Jews, which is to say that Hitler's work, the destruction of Judaism, is understood here as only in cidentally the murder of Jews. Rather, the Jews who today do Hitler's work are Jews who "survive" as people but not "as Jews" (136); they stop thinking of themselves as Jews, they refuse the "stubborn persistence" in their "Jewishness" that is required by Rubinoff as the mark of resistance to Hitler. What this means is that the concept of "cultural genocide," introduced in analogy to the genocide of the Holocaust, now begins to replace that genocide and to become the Holo caust. "A culture is the most valuable thing we have" ("Custodians" 122), says the philosopher Eddy M. Zemach, and this commitment to the value of culture requires that the Holocaust be rewritten as an attack on culture. Thus the "Juda ism" that Hitler wanted to destroy ceases to be a group of people who had what he thought of as "Jewish blood" and becomes instead a set of beliefs and prac tices, and the Hitler who in fact "opened almost every discussion on Jewish mat ters with the assertion that the Jews are not primarily a religious community but a race" (Gutman 359) is now reimagined as a Hitler who wished above all to de stroy Jewish religion and culture. From this standpoint Hitler becomes an oppo nent of cultural diversity and those Jews who have, as Zemach puts it, "lost the will to retain their culture" (129) become not only his victims but his collabora tors. They do his work by assimilating, and insofar as, according to Zemach, American Jews in particular are abandoning their culture, what Jews now con front is the threat of a second Holocaust: if American Jews give up their Jewish ness, Jews "will have lost the greatest and most advanced part of their people" "for the second time this century" (129). This revaluation of assimilation as Holocaust