Thursday, May 19, 2005

Uses of Nostaglia? Auerbach Edition

E. Hayot at Print Culture posts a little appreciative essay on Erich Auerbach's epilogue to Mimesis, an afterword I've also found heartbreaking in its tentative hopefulness. Hayot gives a smart, sensitive reading, and I'd particularly like to point out this concluding paragraph:
Nonetheless, to mobilize the (Western, American) past against the present, to fight the present in the name of a history that is better than what the present offers feels like a fairly compelling idea. The past, with all its hopes and mystifications, is to be sure a fairly malleable object. But it does have--unlike the future--an object-presence (the detritus piled up before the Angel of History) that offers grounds for resisting the uses to which it might otherwise be put. Strong, ample, fair, enduring (as Whitman said of America): the past offers both the possibility of a making and, as in the case of Mimesis, a powerful resistance to it. We were once, it might be able to say, far better than this.

I'm still musing this one over. It's a compelling idea, to be sure, which is why it's been mobilized in so many dubious causes by less careful historians than Auerbach...


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