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Issues of Our Times

Anuradha Chenoy

By Jenny Edkins
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 265, price not stated.


Collective memory and trauma are the psychological blocks that construct the politics of nation building. History has repeatedly shown how groups have recalled their past to recast their identity and assert their nationality. In fact it is difficult to make a nation without a will and a cultural memory. Reconstructing the glories of a ‘past’ to urge people into a nationalist collectivity is common to the process of identity building in nationalism. Even more passionate than a glorious past is the reconstruction of collective trauma that binds a people in a pain that is special and exclusive. This past and pain however, gets a revised version to suit current politics and are told differently by contesting versions of nationalism.   Edkins focuses on communication in the state. Political communication that for instance change an occupation army into “Operation Freedom’ and make people believe that imperialism is the spread of liberty. This is important because, as Jenkins says, “Relations of power are produced through and reflected through language.” To further reveal methods of communication Edkins looks at a wide array of memorials and what they communicate. By doing this Edkins unravels essential aspects of the Western State that make this book a compelling read.   Jenny Edkins looks deeply and systematically into the impact that trauma and the politics of memory has in the life of nations and people. She does so by peeling beneath layers of trauma recollections and reconstruction until she finds how politics determines each of these layers, and how the real victims are not the real beneficiaries, since their stories and pain have been appropriated to transform it into something entirely different. That is how the contemporary form of memorialization functions to reinforce the idea of a nation. Edkins than works out how this kind of consciousness can be challenged, since this is the basis for the challenge to the power of the sovereign state itself.   Three landmark events, the holocaust, memories of the Vietnam war as presented in the USA and the events of September 11, 2001 are the case studies used in this work. These three consciously ‘western events’ are explored in order to examine the connections between violence, the effects of trauma that it produces and the political community, the author however takes up other instances of memories and their edifices as examples to effectively make her point. With this, she looks at how power and the social ...

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