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  • All Streetcars Are Named Desire:The Lost Cities of Juan García Ponce's Personas, lugares y anexas
  • Raúl Rodríguez-Hernández (bio)

As western culture experiences the transition into a new century and a new millennium, the notion of nostalgia keeps returning to individuals, critics, and theorists. Nostalgia also connects cultures to traditions, to golden ages, to the recent past, to good and bad memories, to historical events, and to the important ghost that haunts all memory: the fear of forgetting. Might nostalgia, while a significant and complex concept, be just a reference to bad memories that filters out the difficulties of the past, refusing to engage with them? As Andreas Huyssen writes from the vantage point of the last few years of the 1990s, "Historical memory today is not what it used to be" (2003, 1). The intervention of mass media, photography, film, and, of course, the Internet has created a vast museum-like archive of the past for all to enter and browse even as private versions of the past abound alongside. What Huyssen explores as "the discourse of history . . . there to guarantee the relative stability of the past in its pastness . . . and the mise-en-scène of modernity" (1) has shifted onto the terrain of "a hypertrophy of memory" (3) in which memory itself has become a commodity. [End Page 35]

The recent fads of journaling and scrapbooking, for instance, and the coining of new verbs out of old nouns, point to the marketing of memory that someone as modern as Marcel Proust would be horrified to find. For him, memory is personal and not part of the marketplace. Rather than binding one to the past with often melancholic sensations of loss attached to certain moments, these new exercises in memory bind an individual more than ever to the present, to who one is now. They might also offer the possibility of surviving an erasure from the scene of history, leaving behind traces of the passage of an individual through a finite set of circumstances and times. The individual is, of course, alive today and available to participate in acts of recovery recognized by experts in periodicals that offer advice on the very act of recovering. The acts and faces remembered are now absences, except on the journal or scrapbook page where they are redeemed and reconstituted as lost objects belonging to the collector. The focus, then, is on the collector, both as a figure whose activities of preservation merit consideration and whose life itself becomes embodied in those activities. Thus, lives are invented and reinvented in words and photographic images. These inventions impinge on a broader historical discourse by casting the narratives into the realm of the lone voice far removed from any sense of the social collectivity unless today's marketplace is brought into the equation. As Huyssen rightly concludes, academic debates on these subjects today really have to do with the idea that "the past is increasingly memory without borders rather than national history within borders" (2003, 4). The nation seems to figure not at all in the foreground of these discourses.

But is the act of looking back so fraught with examples of historical forgetting that the image of memory as "archive" (Huyssen 2003, 5) no longer holds? A reconnection with the past is seductive, but the relationship between the two moments in time and their narrator must be examined for the hidden implications of the act of retrieval and its agent. The traditional conjecture that one might learn from history has faded with the petrification of social projects and the loss of "transcendent meaning" (Hanssen 1998, 15), which has been replaced by the notion of transience as the core of the modern. Walter Benjamin's theory of allegory, which delves [End Page 36] for logic in decay and "unearths the debris of human history" (Benjamin cited in Hanssen 1998, 15), can conceivably offer an alternative to the separation of the two aspects of recovery and reveal the historicity of all human acts. The observer gazes on allegory as on "a petrified, primordial landscape. . . . Everything about history . . . that has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, is expressed in a face—or...


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pp. 35-64
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