How is our "remembrance of things past" a way of keeping things alive (and therefore a weapon against death)?
As long as a person is still in someone's memory, is that person still alive?Is one purpose of this course to keep alive our culture's "remembrance of things past"?What would be another purpose?
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George Santanya said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Obviously, this is true as we witness what is happening in our society has already happened in other societies.
Perhaps more than keeping people alive in our memory, the study of history, especially the history of one's culture and one's ancestors, helps a person understand him/herself. Talking with people who have learned about their ancestors usually demonstrates that a person acquires a sense of identity and a sense of belonging somewhere in history.
On the other side of this issue are some famous people. The 19th century American writer, Ambrose Bierce had this comment on history:
HISTORY n. An account, mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of England (1867,1874-80), said this:
Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.
Napoleon Bonaparte quipped,
What is history but a fable retold?
Nevertheless, the reading of history, especially as recorded by another country, helps people understand what is of importance and what values others have. Whether we learn from history is, indeed, dubious; but, at least, there is more understanding of other peoples by learning their history.
Now that's a very interesting question.
I would certainly agree that "remembrance of things past" is a way to keep things alive. In the case of people, I think that it really only works as long as the memory is in people who actually knew the person in question. In other words, I'm not sure that George Washington is still alive in memory because we surely have some pretty inaccurate ideas of him by now because he is a hero more than a person.
Another purpose for your course would, I would suggest, be to give us a common background. When you study the culture and history of your own country (or civilization, since we're connected to the Europeans even though they aren't American) you are making yourself a part of that culture and building ties with other people who learn the same things. In a country whose origins are as diverse as ours, I'd say that's a pretty important aspect of your class.
In his book, "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting," Milan Kundera presented an interesting vignette regarding Communist nations and memory. Essentially, Kundera argues that a government that controls memory is one afraid of its people. Indeed, this might be a good way to discuss the power of memory and what it entails. Memory is a way to keep the spirit of others alive. At the same time, another function of memory is to allow a sphere of negative freedom that cannot be violated or vitiated by anyone or anything. In this understanding, memory is an agent that is one's control. Its presence indicates and validates human freedom against other forces of totality, which seek to eliminate this variable. Seeing memory in this light, one realizes how important it is as it is an affirmation of our existence and consciousness.
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