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Pierre Nora “General Introduction” [to “Rethinking France”]

Nora, Pierre 2001. General Introduction. – Nora, Pierre (ed). Rethinking France: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Volume I – The State. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press: vii-xxii

[…] the history of the present was not simply the temporal extension of traditional history but was governed by another system of historicity. This new form of history was dominated by the notion of the „present“, which called for different ways of connecting with and describing the past. (x)

Historical time of the revolutionary type is informed by the desire for rupture. The devaluation of the notion of rupture that accompanied the decline of the revolutionary idea [since 1970s] restored legitimacy to the idea of tradition. Not a tradition of which we would be the heirs and sustainers (as in the revolutionary mode), but a tradition from which we would be forever separated, one that would thereby become precious, mysterious, and imbued with an uncertain meaning, which was our task to recover. The meteoric rise of the cult of national heritage has no other source. Its secret? The disappearance of historical time dominated by the revolutionary idea restored to the past its freedom, its indetermination, its stature – both material and immaterial. (xiii)

In sum, there is a collective national history on the one hand, private memories on the other. […] It was on this division that traditional French identity was constucted and developed for a century, and this was the mold that cracked. It cracked under a double movement: the internal collapse of the myth that bore the national project and the emancipation that liberated the minorities.

This double movement burst forth in the crucial decade of the 1970s, when France experienced a key transformation. The emergence of a sovereign, tyrannical, and almost intrusive „national memory“ was tied directly to the transition from a historical consciousness of self to a social consciousness; national identity was replaced by social identities. (xiv-xv)

What in France is now called the „national memory“ is nothing other than the transformation of historic memory, which has been invaded, subverted, and flooded by group memories. (xv)

[…] our present is being enslaved to memory, that is to the fetishism of signs, an obsession with history, an accumulation of the material remains of the national past, and to the infinite ways of expressing the national life – not only its history, but also its landscapes, its traditions, its ways of eating, and its long-gone methods of production. Everything is historical, everything is worth remembering, and everything belongs to out memory. (xviii)

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