This chapter situates the current preoccupation with memory and remembrance in the context of philosophical modernity. After questioning the claim that the turn to memory in contemporary theory and culture promotes a shift away from meta-narrative accounts of history and toward perspectival or post-modern accounts, the chapter situates memorial discourse in the context of such diverse modern themes as enlightenment, autonomy, progress, and historicist temporality. The argument is then made that these themes and projects are inadequate modes of response to the memorial dilemmas of a post-traumatic age. Given this inadequacy, this introductory chapter proposes to re-read canonical philosophies of memory of the modern period (John Locke, G. W. F. Hegel) in the context of later theorists of memory (Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Blanchot). While remaining mindful of where those classic texts conventionally lead, this chapter foregrounds the presence of disruptions of language, transmission and communication that open them up to new readings.
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