A talk presented by Prof. Olivier Abel, of The Protestant Institute of Theology, Paris.
There are certain things that cannot be forced. We cannot make someone believe any more than we can make them remember, make them love any more than we can make them forgive and forget. The danger facing every politics of memory is to declare a duty of remembering, if not of forgetting, and to build on that an official version of history.
To clarify the relationship between memory and history, without confusing them or dissociating them completely, we must turn to Paul Ricœur, whose work best guides us in this area. To untangle the two notions history and memory, he introduces a third, that of politics. Behind the conflict of memory and history there lies a horizon irreducible to that of the epistemological truth of history, namely that of the divided city. How to ensure that this difference does not lead to civil war? How do we ensure a minimum of historical confidence so that history is not reduced to a relationship of force? This necessary confidence presupposes credit given to a diversity of memories, and to a historical distance. It also supposes that today’s memory, when it reappropriates the past and makes it its own, does not do so as a revindication of identity, but rather through work and an ethical displacement that encompasses the past in its entirety. Finally this confidence requires that a difference be made between that part of the past that does not pass and is not finished, and what is past and can be buried. All these are questions where philosophy meets history.
To conclude I wish to address a philosophical question of some concern to me: the passage from a regime of imperial history (that of the Ottoman Empire), to a regime of national history (that of Kemalist Turkey), did not happen overnight. Similarly what we seek in Europe, and indeed the world, is the delicate passage from a regime of national history to a post-national, federal or pluri-national regime, that we do not know yet and which we must invent. This passage is a dangerous moment. How do we make place for a new regime of memory, which must also be a new regime for political agreement and disagreement. Is it not in this difficult remembering and reopening of the past to other historical possibilities that we are caught and at which we must work together?
A list talks and presentations hosted by the Program in Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas between 2001 and 2006 is archived CCI Talks (2001-2006) here.