Essays on Living with the Past
In these essays, Michael S. Roth uses psychoanalysis to build a richer understanding of history, and then takes a more expansive conception of history to decode the cultural construction of memory. He first examines the development in nineteenth-century France of medical criteria for diagnosing memory disorders, which signal fundamental changes in the understanding of present and past. He next explores links between historical consciousness and issues relating to the psyche, including trauma and repression and hypnosis and therapy. Roth turns to the work of postmodern theorists in connection with the philosophy of history and then examines photography's capacity to capture traces of the past. He considers how we strive to be faithful to the past even when we don't care about getting it right or using it productively. Roth concludes with essays defending pragmatic and reflexive liberal education. Drawing on his experiences as a teacher and academic leader, he speaks of living with the past without being dominated by it.
Roth rules! A compulsive peeper into the corners of the historical past, he is the visual historian's historian. Not only because Roth is smart, not only because he finds odd things that captured people's attention in the past, not only because he is theoretically sophisticated without being dogmatic, but also because as a thinker and writer he is always able to engage his audience on every topic.
Sander L. Gilman, Emory University
With critical agility and grace, Roth's life-affirming and judicious work urges us to absorb the critical lessons of postmodern irony and resist the lure of cold and superior sophistication in favor of efforts to find meaning in ever renewed inquiries into who we think we are and what we want to be.
Carolyn J. Dean, Brown University, author of Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust
In this excellent work, Roth provides sobering antidotes to recent hyperboles, claiming the most abject forms of victimization and trauma have recently become the ultimate forms of legitimation. A lucid, boldly interdisciplinary book, Roth's work will stimulate exchange among historians, critical theorists, literary critics, students of visual culture, and all readers concerned about the fate of liberal education.
Dominick La Capra, Cornell University
This collection revises our normal conceptions of the relation between 'history' and 'the past.' Roth's essays challenge us to rethink the links among history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the body.
Hayden White, University of California, Santa Cruz
exceptional and wide-ranging
Not only does it stand out as a profound interdisciplinary study on the multilayered facets of (collective) memory and its (re)construction, but it is in itself a valuable record of contemporary discourses on memory, since its essays were written over more than twenty years.