Desmond Bowles, CC BY-SA 2.0

Dr Itay Lotem, Senior Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Westminster, discusses his new book The Memory of Colonialism in Britain and France: The Sins of Silence. In both countries, though in different ways, memory is more about issues of the present than about the past.

1 comment on “The Spoils of Empire

  1. Greg Pollock says:

    The Scottish Sci-Fi author Ian M. Banks has a book, “Look to windward” which touches the topic of historical memory. The awe-inspiring Culture had, for it, a minor war which had it nova a star of the enemy. Because of faster than light travel, all know about this event, and the Culture has expanded far beyond the nova star. The light from that nova is soon to reach an orbital platform of the Culture which houses, say, billions of people. The platform is making an occasion of the coming light of nova (so its first appearance in the sky), and part of the novel is about who comes to attend the event and politics thereby–including attempted terrorism. The oddity is that without the coming of the nova none of the novel’s event could happen. The past returns, precipitating events in the now.

    We have the ability to bring nova’s light when we want, through cultural memory and story, the first really only possible through the second. So present telling induces or creates memory which then affects the present. If we make inheritors of evil, which is how, I think, many white Trump supporters feel, we are imprisoning them in created memory. Yet, others, such as Blacks trying to break through their inherited past, can benefit from the new articulation. So what the past was becomes what the past will be. Academics seeks a protected world to speak of these things, but as soon as this moves beyond that world they become actors of today. The Republican attack on wokeism and critical race theory exemplifies the reaction. And surely the Holocaust as told today is crucial for framing the Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza.

    If I make a prediction of some physical phenomenon, I assert many other physical processes and expect to be constrained by them; that is, my constraint is also my justification of assertion. This can go awry, as presently in vaccine and mask denial in the US and elsewhere, which is really about exterior story telling us what we must do. Ultimately, as in the rise in infections in the US South, reality comes home. But in talk of social history this is far more ambiguous. We seem able to define this reality (so I would make connection between vaccine/mask refusal with the attempt to define inheritors of evil–no you won’t!). We really don’t know the long term effects of denying history, save that they may be long in the coming. Nakba/Israeli Independence is really looking at the same nova with different filters. The ethnic riots in Israel suggest a real delayed effect, but is it, can it be, solved by going back to the original nova?

    What happens at the end of Banks’ novel? People saved from terror unawares, the guests see the nova, have a party with much talk, and go home. The light of the nova continues it travel beyond.

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