Lest We Forget: A Heterology of Remembering
One of several claims often made for the ongoing ‘humanitarian’ importance of historical study is that with an understanding of the past its mistakes can be avoided in
the present. The brilliant philosopher Edith Wyschogrod develops the image of “the heterological historian” in order to understand the moral value of good remembering. This was largely in contrast to the types of dehistoricised subjectivities that certain forms of the post-Cartesian subject was prone towards, and why they become particularly destablised by the Holocaust demand of the brutally silenced ‘other’. Of course, there remain crucial questions as to what remembering involves, whose remembering it is, what kinds of pressures are on the recall, and of hermeneutical questions as to what its contemporary ‘value’ might be and how it be decided.
Observing the seemingly rather sudden growth of religious and political fractures around the Western world, the demise of possibilities for democratic conversation, and the anxieties that they feed on, heterological historians have a particularly urgent moral task lying before them. And yet ironically this comes precisely at a time when the Humanities and their value are hemmed in by the pressures of an aggressively competitive marketplace, and the privileging of an arguably ontologically vacuous positivistic imagination.
My brief blog will end with a citation from the once senior Nazi official Hermann Göring, suggesting that we seem to be failing to learn well from our mistakes. His claims will resonate in the minds of many given the policies so well fictionalised in George Orwell’s chilling 1984:
“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, … [v]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders… All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”