Chapter 5: The Power of Memory
Memory speaks with forked tongue. In telling us about the best and the worst of the past, it leaves us unsure whether to hope or to despair, to smile benevolently or to weep. It is our past. We cannot disown it. It is not our past. It was our circumstances that made our past. We did not make our circumstances. We may know the kind of future that we would like. But we know that circumstances will make a future that we will not have chosen and cannot predict. It is our job to make our future, but we feel strangely incompetent in that role. The uncertainties of memory have a crucial effect on all our lives. The uncertainties of memory are grossly magnified in the collective memory of the human past that we call ‘history’ – with profound effects on the making of the collective human future. Can we, at least, create the circumstances that make a better future possible? Where is history? Nowhere. Lost in the mists of time, but haunting us every day of our lives. Piecing together the debris of the human past, like archaeologists, we reconstruct something we think of as the past – from buildings, books, documents, art works, institutions, marks made by agriculture and engineering on the surface of the Earth, together with past mental reconstructions of the past that we have inherited. History, like memory, has a phenomenology not an ontology.
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