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Memory and History

Essays in Contemporary History

Series:

Lutz Niethammer

This book brings together eighteen English language essays on the fringes, overlap, and tensions of memory and history that the author has published over the last three decades. It is characteristic that the two longest essays in this volume, and the most recent one, are reflections on the author’s ambiguity vis-à-vis autobiographical Ego-histoire, on his role and experiences as a government advisor during the international negotiations on compensation for Nazi forced labor, and on the contexts of the essays of this book. The author was also instrumental in bringing Oral History to Germany and making it academically respectable. So the second largest part of this book displays some examples of his approaches to German ‘Erfahrungsgeschichte’ West and East, and to their roots in and beyond the Nazi period, being analytical and literary at the same time. The third major group of essays documents some of the author’s interventions into intellectual and conceptual history: with the examples of ‘Collective Identity’ and ‘Posthistoire’ he shows the merits of investigative ‘Geistesgeschichte’ contesting mainstream intellectual assumptions. With the method of Comparative Considerations he tries to specify the situation of German Labor after the ‘Third Reich’, the mythological potential of Soviet Special Camps in Germany after World War II, or the perspectives of the German ‘Sonderweg’ after 1990.

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POSTHISTOIRE?

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6.1 Afterthoughts on Posthistoire The Zeitgeist tries to elude specification by resorting to a host of terms prefixed by the morpheme "post-": post-modern, post-industrial, post-revolutionary society. That list can be extended– yet the most encompassing of these epithets, namely "posthistoire," enjoys only apocryphal popularity. In articles or notes on research in progress, you may occasionally chance upon the observation, almost in passing, that history is at an end, that we live in "posthistorical" times. The bald statement usually stands without any further commentary, as if little more need be added. In- terest in the posthistorical era is riveted more on aesthetic playfulness as an ap- proach to the potpourri of the past, simulation of arbitrarily selected fragments drawn from bygone eras: one engages in a game with tokens that have some sem- blance of enduring value, yet are quoted out of context, and thus annulled. The historian reading these terse pronouncements about the supposed demise of the very subject and pith of his professional craft is bewildered, since his field would appear to be enjoying something of a rejuvenation: a rare conjunction of in- creased historical interest, encouragement by the media and an aesthetic reanima- tion of elements culled from the cultural heritage. He is unnerved and troubled by what the heralds of posthistoire seem to insinuate: that the entire project of rehis- toricization may ultimately be little more than some sort of simulation itself, a pho- ney spectacle staged and directed by the culture industry. He is plagued by...

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