The presence of the past: Negotiating the politics of collective memory

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What are the political implications of a complex image of time, where time does not unfold progressively in a neat linear structure, but where the past is always present and the future impinges on the now? If the past is inescapably present, how do societies that live with grievously injured pasts come to terms with them in the present for the sake of the future? How do they try to address the collective memories of their people, when such memories are marked by violence and conflict, without resorting to vengeance? Drawing from the philosophical writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, this article examines the way in which two countries have recently attempted to negotiate the politics of memory – Algeria and Rwanda. It poses such questions as how much should be forgotten and how much should be remembered? It also asks the difficult question of how such pasts can be overcome and transfigured in the present for the sake of the politics of an affirmative politics of the future.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Political Science, DePauw University, 104 Asbury Hall, Greencastle, IN 46135, USA., Email:

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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