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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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My History, Our History (Robert Eaglestone)

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robert eaglestone

Literary theorist Robert Eaglestone muses on the importance of a less oppositional form of ‘our’ history and calls for active ‘co-memoration’, working through the past together.

Among the many rich seams that emerged from discussions at the ‘Conflict and Community’ workshop in Oxford in November 2017, one phase especially relevant to commemoration sticks with me: ‘my history in your history’. It arose from the discussion, I think, of the philosopher Hannah Arendt, speaking as a Jew to Germans on being awarded the Lessing Prize in Hamburg in 1959. While there’s more in Arendt’s moving and dense reflection, this phrase does work as a useful place from which to think about the relationship between heterogeneity, the social and acts of remembrance.

At first, it made me worry: surely ‘my history in your history’ simply repeats the opposition found in strong forms of identity politics. Mine against Yours even if Mine is inside Yours.

And again, surely no history is simply ‘My history…’? History, even the most solitary autobiography, involves others, invokes a world (a psychiatrist friend of mine often cites Donald Winnicott: ‘there’s no such thing as a baby’ – a baby exists only in a world of mothers, others, family, and so on). On the other hand, ‘my’ is often the way of claiming a voice.

So I began to play with the phrase in my mind. Could there be ‘our history in your history’? Yes, but still...

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