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Lusting for Memory, Romancing with Phantoms

Hari Nair

By Nissim Mannathukkaren
Navayana, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 116, $12.50


The central theme of this study is memory. Other important ones include teleology, spectrality, Derridean deconstruction, certain aspects of Marxism, ideas of the messianic plus philosophies of alterity. But, if we were to postpone our comments on such a wide array of subjects, and were to hunt for the grain straightaway, we would find the author mulling over a penetrating question: why have Marxists hitherto glossed over the role of memory in the re-constitution of the present (p. 17)? Seen from this angle, the nucleus of the book lies between pages 58-81.   Mannathukkaren constitutes his problématique by posing two apparently irreconcilable perspectives on memory, or the ways in which the past could/ought to be inherited by the present and the future. On the one hand, he posits the opinions of Karl Marx and contemporary Marxists like Aijaz Ahmad, Antonio Negri et alius, while on the other hand, are the ideas of Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida, to mention just the most outstanding. This debate is spread out before the reader in all its details and is really too complex to be summarized here. The conclusion however is susceptible to a synopsis. Nissim arbitrates a middle path between the two rival postures and contends that a/the communist future should never ignore past-struggles including its own follies, for it is the ‘apathy towards tradition that has thus far resulted in the failure of many socialist projects’. He concludes that the Marxists’ rupture with memory is (an avoidable) step by which they seek liberation from tradition, a consequence of the Enlightenment trajectory. If our reading is valid, the book then takes us directly to memory.   Ever since the 1980s—with the spotlight on the works of Yosef Yerushalmi, Pierre Nora, Jacques LeGoff et al.—the sub-discipline of memory studies (or the location of memory in a critical conjunction with the human sciences) has remained a complicated one. This situation is unlike the days of Hugh von Hofmannsthal and Maurice Halbwachs at the beginning of the 20th century, when memory emerged as roughly contemporaneous with the crisis of historicism in Germany. In the following paragraph, we need not risk entering the labyrinth of definitions nor preoccupy ourselves with a literature review on the state of the discipline. Such tasks have been done with sure and certain rigour elsewhere. Rather, we shall merely highlight a set of questions in the relationship between history ...

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