Marking time in a culture of amnesia

It is a paradox of our times that amnesia should be considered a dominant characteristic of post-modern media culture, a culture which is nonetheless obsessed with the past. This apparent contradiction is the theoretical interest of Twilight Memories, a collection of essays by Andreas Huyssen. Focusing on a temporal shift of the utopian imagination from a future-oriented anticipation to memory and remembrance, Huyssen posits a gap between modernity and postmodernity in which the past becomes the object of desire.

Memory, in fact, is the element which destabilizes the frozen binary positions of modern and postmodern. Re-reading Rilke and Junger, Huyssen presents a divided literary modernism, one which questions the fast and ready collapsing of modernity with all that is totalizing. Essays on Kluge, Sloterdijk, Fluxus and Kiefer, challenge some of the received ideas of critical theory as well as poststructuralism. These subjects are tied in with the question of German national identity and the debates concerning unification.

Huyssen emphasizes throughout that it is necessary to forget in order to remember and that amnesia, far from being all-encompassing, also creates the desire for reconstruction. The strength of memory, then, is that it can be contested. With this insight the author provides an optimistic interpretation of postmodernism’s museal sensibility, the current predilection toward building museums and monuments, which might, surprisingly, reveal the utopian side of contemporary culture. Active remembrance, as process and representation, is never complete and as such, holds promise for the future. M. J. L.