Aug 31: What is the Status of the Past?

Before we get into the specific aspects of war and memory in Japan we will take the next two weeks to ask bigger questions about the role of the past in the present. Our big question for these two weeks, and for the rest of the semester, is simply this: What is the status of the past?

In other words, what is history to us here, now? Does it matter at all? And if it does, in what way does it matter? Does the past place an ethical or political demand on us in the present? Even if it does, can we ignore it? At what costs?

Read the following texts–which are short but very dense–very carefully. Take your time and take good notes. Keep the above questions in mind. Lastly, these texts do not agree with each other. Your job is not to make them agree. For now, just be able to explain, analyze, and argue how and why they disagree. Later in the semester, you’ll have to develop your own answer to our big question, but that time is not yet.

Bring texts and notes to class. To help everyone follow, do your best to note page numbers.

Hegel, The Philosophy of History, pp. 92-8.

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (excerpt, pp. 7-25)

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

Borges, “Funes, The Memorius