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Twentieth Century Wars in European Memory


Edited By Jozef Niznik

In various European countries the two world wars are remembered in very different ways, although everywhere one can find monuments which serve as material objectification of the memory of war. However, such objectifications not only determine certain patterns of remembrance and a specific perception of the past: they also contribute to local and/or national identity and create the basis for attitudes toward the other participants of war. As it happens, instruments of memory live their own life and the meanings they attach to particular events may be changed by historical and political processes. The question remaining in the background of this publication is whether we can «make Europeans» without European collective memory transgressing national perspectives. The memory of war, which inevitably shows the overall absurdity and tragedy of war no matter where and against whom fought, may be the primary candidate for such Europeanization.


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Places and Traces Jay Winter Tree ring showing damage to a tree in the period of the First World War. The tree survived bombardments in the Ypres sector on the Western front, but the black indications of damage were incorporated in later tree rings. From In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres, Belgium There are three kinds of traces of the past we live with. There is firstly, what Paul Ricoeur termed the affective trace,1 full of the force of immediacy, the trigger of powerful impressions, like Proust’s rush of emotion when he dipped 1 Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 2000), p. 134. I do not share Ricoeur’s distinction between affective traces and corporeal traces, which he develops in this study. Memory traces have affect imbedded in them. But my debt to Ricoeur is evident. No one in this field has done more than Ricoeur to clarify the difficult conceptual issues in it. 18 Jay Winter his madeleine in his herbal tea, and found that his childhood reveries had been reborn miraculously. Affect is what makes memories linger. They leave biochemical imprints in our brains. These memory traces may be retrieved, if we are lucky, and if we so desire, in later years. The traces are not stable, and some may vanish entirely. But we all use them to construct autobiographical memory. Through ‘I know because I was there’ statements, survivors create narratives about their lives. Like memories, these narratives are by no means fixed....

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