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Francois Hartog “Time and Heritage”

Hartog, Francois 2005. Time and Heritage. Museum International 57(3): 7-18.

A conference, conceived by the Hellenist, Marcel Detienne, a specialist in comparative approaches, provided the opportunity to resume the concept once again and develop it further, along with another anthropologist, Gérard Lenclud. This was a way to pursue, by slightly shifting the intermittent but recurrent dialogue, which had occasionally faded but never been completely abandoned, between anthropology and history that Claude Le ´vi-Strauss had initiated in 1949. The ‘regime of historicity’, we then wrote, could be understood in two ways. In a restricted sense, as the way in which a society considers its past and deals with it. In a broader sense, the regime of historicity designates ‘the method of
self-awareness in a human community’. How, in the words of Lévi-Strauss, it ‘reacts’ to a ‘degree of historicity’ which is identical for all societies. More precisely, the concept provides an instrument for comparing different types of history, but also and even primarily, I would now add, highlights methods of relating to time: forms of experiencing time, here and elsewhere, today and yesterday. Ways of being in time. (8)

The Places of Memory by the historian Pierre Nora led to the diagnosis of a ‘heritagization’ of the history of France, if not of France itself, to the extent that the shift from one regime of memory to another led us from ‘history-memory’ to ‘history-heritage’. In this respect, the definition attributed by the law of 1993 concerning monumental heritage is remarkable: ‘Our heritage is the memory of our history and the symbol of our national identity.’ Proceeding from memory, heritage becomes the memory of history, and as such, a symbol of identity. Memory, heritage, history, identity, and nation are united in the polished style of the legislator. (10)

However, it is less a question of an obvious, assertive identity, more a question of an uneasy identity that risks disappearing or is already largely forgotten, obliterated, or repressed: an identity in search of itself, to be exhumed, assembled, or even invented. In this way, heritage comes to define less that which one
possesses, what one has, than circumscribing what one is, without having known, or even been capable of knowing. Heritage thus becomes an invitation for collective anamnesis. The ‘ardent obligation’ of heritage, with its requirements for conservation, renovation, and commemoration is added to the ‘duty’ of memory, with its recent public translation of repentance. (10)

In recent years, the surge of patrimony, in phase with that of memory, has grown to a scale that reaches the limit of what could be ‘everything is heritage’. As memories are increasingly claimed or demanded, everything could be considered heritage or liable to become heritage. The same inflation seems to reign. As ‘heritagization’ or ‘museifization’ always approaches closer to the present, it had to be stipulated, for example, ‘that no work of a living architect could legally be considered as an historic monument’.14 This is a clear indication of the present historicizing itself, as mentioned above. (12)

[…] the most authentically modern today would be the historical past, but according to modern standards. Only the facades are preserved. (12)

The museified gaze is thus directed towards that which surrounds us. We would like to prepare, starting from today, the museum of tomorrow, assembling today’s archives as if they were already yesterday’s, caught as we are between amnesia and the desire to forget nothing. For whom if not for ourselves, in the first place? (14)

[…] the contemporary surge of heritage is distinguished from earlier movements by the rapidity of its
expansion, the multiplicity of its expressions and its highly presentist nature, even though the present has taken on a wider meaning. The memorial takes precedence over the monument or the latter turns into a memorial. The past attracts more than history; the presence of the past, the evocation and the emotions win out over keeping a distance and mediation; finally, this heritage is itself influenced by acceleration: it
should be done quickly before it is too late, before night falls and today has completely disappeared. (16)

[…] a future which no longer remains to be conquered or made to happen, without hesitating, if necessary, to brutalize the present. This future is no longer a bright horizon towards which we advance, but a line of shadow that we have drawn towards ourselves, while we seem to have come to a standstill in the present, pondering on a past that is not passing. (16)

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