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Enzo Traverso - "Marxism and Memory: from Teleology to Melancholy"

Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 4:45pm

Toboggan Lodge, Cornell University

ENZO TRAVERSO (Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities, Romance Studies, Cornell University)

At the beginning of the 1980s, the rise of memory in the field of the humanities coincided with the crisis of Marxism, a current of thought that had deeply shaped the historiography of the previous decades. Consequently, Marxism did not contribute to the “memorial moment” characteristic of the turn of the twenty-first century. The Marxist vision of history, nevertheless, included a memorial prescription: to select the events of the past in order to inscribe them into the future. It was a “strategic” memory of past revolutions, a future-oriented memory. Today, the end of real socialism has broken this dialectic between past and future, and the eclipse of utopias engendered by our “presentist” time has extinguished Marxist memory. The dialectical tension between the past as a “field of experience” and the future as a “horizon of expectation” (Koselleck) becomes a kind of mutilated, “negative dialectic.” In this context, a melancholic vision of history as remembrance (Eingedenken) of the vanquished—Walter Benjamin was its most significant interpreter—that had belonged to a marginal Marxist tradition suddenly reappears.

Enzo Traverso studied at the University of Genoa, Italy, and received his Ph.D. from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (1989). He specializes in contemporary Europe, focusing on intellectual history and the political ideas of the twentieth century, in a comparative perspective. Before coming to Cornell, he was a professor of political science at the University Jules Verne of Picardy, France, and a member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He has also been visiting professor at several European as well as Latin American Universities. His publications, all translated into numerous languages, include more than ten authored and other edited books. Several of his works investigate the impact of political and mass violence on European culture. He is currently preparing a book on representations of the Jewish intellectual in Germany, France and Italy at the turn of the twentieth century.

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