On Remembering and Forgetting in Late Modern Culture
A probing study of the place of memory in the contemporary Western world
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.
The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture