Memory Remains: Technology, Poetry, and the Non-Closure of the Past in Heidegger and Benjamin Restricted; Files Only

Brewer, Benjamin (Spring 2022)

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Memory Remains argues that technological modernity marks a fundamental shift in conceptions of the self and its relation to the past. Reading Martin Heidegger’s writings on Friedrich Hölderlin and Walter Benjamin’s work on Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, and allegory, I develop a thinking of memory in the age of technology as the “remains” of the past. These remains neither preserve the past in its actuality nor establish the identity of a self or a community through time; rather, they mark the past’s non-closure. Accordingly, memory can no longer be understood as simply the record of past experience or actuality and becomes a medium in which unfulfilled possibilities and the contingency of historical time are encountered. In Heidegger’s readings of Hölderlin, I argue, memory becomes a medium for the appropriation of forgotten possibilities and encounters with alterity, which offer an opening beyond the technological present and its drive to closure, control, and transparency. At the same time, I trace how Heidegger’s investment in the schema of appropriation—even one that presupposes an experience of expropriation and foregrounds the relational nature of identity—links this thinking of remembrance and his critique of technology to his nationalism. This commitment to a properly constituted Volk ultimately undermines Heidegger’s own insight and leads him to try to place limits on the openness he discovers in memory. Benjamin’s work, I argue, shows how memory renders legible the contingency of historical life. Drawing first on his arguments about the technological “change in the structure of experience” in Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust, I then show how his rethinking of allegory is crucial to understanding the claim that memory commemorates the violence of historical life without thereby giving that violence the sheen of necessity. This, I argue, leads to a more capacious understanding of memory, in which memory is just as much a site of catastrophe as redemption and which doesn’t need to disavow the material and technological basis of experience.

Table of Contents



Part One: Martin Heidegger and the Essence of Memory                                                                                       

Chapter 1 – Essential Forgetting                                                                                                                                     

                 §1 Nietzsche’s Figure of Forgetting                                                                                                                 

                 §2 Essence, Truth, and Forgetting                                                                                                                                                                                                  

                 §3 The Vortex of Forgetting and the Trace of the Turn                                                                 


Chapter 2 –Memory Proper: Recollecting the Nation to Come                                                                   

                 §1 The German Ear and Index Finger                                                                                                           

                 §2 Learning the Foreign, Learning the Proper                                                                                        

                 §3 The Remembrance of a Proper to Come                                                                                           

                 §4 The Turn Homeward                                                                                                                                


Part Two: Walter Benjamin’s Messianic Allegories of the Past

Chapter 3 – Mass Distraction                                                                                                                                          

                 §1 A Change in the Structure of Experience                                                                                         

                 §2 The Sterilization of Memory                                                                                                                    

                 §3 Shock Experience, Spleen, Ennui                                                                                                            

Chapter 4 – Transient Remembrance: Allegory and the Form of the Image                                      

                 §1 Lessing and the Legibility of the Image                                                                                               

                 §2 The Historical and Formal Conditions of Baroque Allegory                                            

                 §3 The Ends of Allegory and the True Image of the Past                                                           



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