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Committing the Future to MemoryHistory, Experience, Trauma$
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Sarah Clift

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780823254200

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823254200.001.0001

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Narrative Life Span, in the Wake

Narrative Life Span, in the Wake

Benjamin and Arendt

(p.8) Chapter One Narrative Life Span, in the Wake
Committing the Future to Memory

Sarah Clift

Fordham University Press

This chapter draws on texts by Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt to establish the framework of the book as a whole. For both Arendt and Benjamin, the narrative form is the predominant expression of historical memory, and this chapter emphasizes how both thinkers articulate its relation to the finitude of human experience by virtue of its having a beginning, middle, and an end. While Arendt argues that this structure has been lost in the open-endedness of modern conceptions of progress and Benjamin suggests that its loss has contributed to the demise of storytelling as individual remembrance, the latter nonetheless suggests that something of human finitude has been retained in modernity, even within its commitment to never-ending progress. In the course of the exploration, the chapter argues that this structure of open-endedness can provide a resource for theorizing historical narratives in terms of their withheld endings, or as an experience of reading about the past that is charged with a future-oriented suspense. It pursues this jarring experience of reading the past as one which has the potential to suspend or interrupt a straight-forward conception of linear time.

Keywords:   Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Narrative, Historical Memory, Linear time, Finitude

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