I have been reading some stuff on “community of memory” (Paige Baty on Marylin and Barbie Zelizer on Kennedy) and then recently came across these two quotes from quite different sources.
Firstly Derrida’s notion of ghosts from an this essay on the cultural history of the highway:
Jacques Derrida has suggested that ghosts come to talk with us both from the past and the future. Learning to understand these ghosts of the future-past or the past-future is necessary, he claims, if we wish to take responsibility for future generations:
[we must] learn to live by learning not how to make conversation with the ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other, in the other in oneself: they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet. (176)
In the case of highways, thus, it is important to understand the role that ghosts play in our constructions of the past and the future, if we are to learn to take responsibility for their role in the future. The way we imagine the roads of tomorrow suggests something about the way we value our selves, our environment, and our technologies — and suggests something about the way we must act, if we are to have responsibility for our future selves.
Secondly this essay from the Boston Globe on Oliver Stone’s new movie Alexander.
WRITING ABOUT the Romans seen on film 50 years ago, the French theorist Roland Barthes saw in their sweaty brows the mythology of “man thinking.” These days, however, our Greeks and Romans do not think, they remind. They remind themselves of their destiny. They remind their followers of the glory they might win. And their stories remind us a great deal of our current empire, and its strategic uncertainties.
The author J. D Connor makes not just the obvious comparison to Iraq and the American empire but also takes this new taste for epics (Gladiator, Troy, Alexander and others to come soon) as a reflection of the global empire of Hollywood: “These days any commercial filmmaker (and particularly one with a fondness for casts of thousands and lavish period detail) needs a certain amount of imperial hubris: that is, he needs to believe that audiences will flock to his or her films around the globe.”
Today’s events are present in the history remade on screen:
Since much of the action of “Alexander,” moral and military, takes place in what is now Iraq, it’s hardly surprising that Oliver Stone takes some potshots at the president. What is unexpected are the heartfelt neocon speeches Alexander delivers. Standing on his balcony overlooking Babylon, he goes on and on: “These people want change, they need change,” Alexander asserts. He lives “to free the people of the world.”
To be sure, Stone lays the irony on thick here. After the first balcony speech, Alexander’s boyfriend Hephaistion quickly changes the subject to his sovereign’s dreamy eyes. And during Alexander’s second major policy address on the balcony, he is too preoccupied with Babylon’s “deep water port” to notice that Hephaistion is busy flailing away out of focus in the background, dying of a poison-induced fever.
When a trusted commander complains that conquering all of Asia “was not your father’s mission,” Alexander responds (again la W.), “I am not my father.” Why stop now? Why stop ever? One more month, Alexander tells his men in India.
It’s all here in a condensed image. The anxiety over empire, the anxiety of sexuality, the anxiety over expansion and retreat. We are reminded of history, we see ghosts of past present and future. We see cultural production.