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Theatres of Memory, Volume I: Past and Present in Contemporary British Culture
     

Theatres of Memory, Volume I: Past and Present in Contemporary British Culture

by Raphael Samuel
 
The idea that the past is a plaything of the present, or a ‘metafiction’, is only now beginning to disturb the tranquillity of professional historians, but for some twenty years it has been a commonplace of epistemological criticism, and a mainspring of experimental work in literature and the arts. Thus in ‘magic realism’ or ‘modern

Overview

The idea that the past is a plaything of the present, or a ‘metafiction’, is only now beginning to disturb the tranquillity of professional historians, but for some twenty years it has been a commonplace of epistemological criticism, and a mainspring of experimental work in literature and the arts. Thus in ‘magic realism’ or ‘modern Gothic’ the fairy tale can appear as the latest thing; while in the visual arts, futurist installations offer themselves as parodies of Old Masters. ‘Back to the Future’ is also a leitmotiv in commodity and marketing design—something discussed here under the heading of ‘Retrochic’—while in Britain, as in other advanced capitalist societies, conservation has been the cutting edge of the business recolonization of the inner city.

According to critics of the heritage industry the current obsession with the past signals not a return to tradition but the exhaustion of history’s grand narratives. The postmodern condition, so the argument runs, is one where the future has spectacularly parted company from the past. Nostalgia is the sigh of the historically orphaned, heritage a symptom of national decay.

In this book—the first of a trilogy—Raphael Samuel takes issue with the heritage baiters. He offers an alternative genealogy of resurrectionism, relating it to the environmentalist movements of our time. He argues that we live in an expanding historical culture, one which is newly alert to the evidence of the visual, and which is reconnecting the study of landscape and townscape to that of the natural world. It is also, he argues, more democratic than earlier versions of the national past, and much more hospitable to hitherto stigmatized minorities. The volume is prefaced with a long essay on unofficial knowledge and has an Afterword on ‘allegories of the real’.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Whose history is it, then? That’s the question driving Raphael Samuel’s provocative investigation of the historically steeped nature of British culture ... A joy to read.”—Roy Porter, New Statesman

“A brilliant and compelling historical vision.”—Jonathan Clark, The Times

“An alluring, hugely energetic writer ... Samuel is invaluable.”—Fiona MacCarthy, Observer

“Challenging, perceptive and gloriously eclectic.”—David Robinson, The Scotsman

“Magnificent.”—David Edgar, Independent on Sunday

“A showcase for Samuel’s quite astonishing historical and cultural range.”—Stefan Collini, Times Literary Supplement

“One of the most outstanding, original intellectuals of his generation.”—Stuart Hall

David A. Bell
...Samuel [explores] with evident delight, the vagaries and the vicissitudes of popular collective memory in Great Britain....[it has] a taste for whimsy and [an] appetite for exposing invented traditions....His work has nothing systematic about it. It reflects, rather, one of his own favorite phrases: "madcap enthusiasm." — The New Republic
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The mania for a ``lost England''--manifest in TV costume dramas, railway preservation, cottage-style houses and the revival of historic ports--is not necessarily a reactionary, nostalgic phenomenon, argues British social historian Samuel. He views the ``heritage'' movement as a counterweight to excessive modernization--perhaps a consolation for Britain's loss of world leadership, but in any event a bid to preserve natural and cultural environments under threat. Samuel perceives a ``retrochic'' style, which exalts the recent past and unnoticed beauties of everyday life, in Merchant-Ivory films, period clothes, documentary photographs and ``olde worlde'' pubs. This sophisticated study also deciphers Edwardian shopping streets and Victorian fairs, analyzes class stereotypes in the movie "The Elephant Man" and unravels the ``contrived authenticities'' of film and stage versions of Dickens' novels.
Booknews
An unaltered reprint of the original (1980) Wiley edition. An argument to counter the heritage baiters--those who believe hospitable to previously stigmatized minorities. the current obsession with the past in criticism, literature, and the arts signals not a return to tradition but the exhaustion of history's grand narratives and a symptom of national decay. In this first part of a trilogy, Samuel (history, Ruskin College, Oxford U.) relates resurrectionism to the environmental movements of our time. He argues that our expanding historical culture is newly alert to evidence of the visual, and is both more democratic than earlier versions of the national past and more Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780860912095
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
01/28/1995
Pages:
479
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.64(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Raphael Samuel (1934–1996) was a tutor in History at Ruskin College, Oxford, and a founding editor of History Workshop Journal. His works include Theatres of Memory and Island Stories, also from Verso. For more information about his work, see The Raphael Samuel History Centre and Archive online.

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