The past is a foreign country by David Lowenthal

By David Lowenthal

During this remarkably wide-ranging publication Professor Lowenthal analyses the ever-changing function of the earlier in shaping our lives. A background instantly nurturing and burdensome, the earlier permits us to make feel of the current when implementing robust constraints upon the way in which that current develops. a few facets of the previous are celebrated, others expunged, as every one iteration reshapes its legacy in accordance with present wishes. Drawing on the entire arts, the arts and the social sciences, the writer makes use of assets as assorted as technological know-how fiction and psychoanalysis to check how uprising opposed to inherited culture has given upward thrust to the fashionable cult of renovation and pervasive nostalgia. Profusely illustrated, The earlier is a overseas kingdom indicates that even if the previous has ceased to be a sanction for inherited energy or privilege, as a spotlight of non-public and nationwide id and as a bulwark opposed to immense and distressing swap it continues to be as effective a strength as ever in human affairs.

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Tourists flock from far and wide to admire this ecclesiastical art. But I am not a tourist; I come here to work on my organ technique. So I walk to the west side of the church, climb a narrow staircase and switch on the blower motor. This motor is not original, of course, but otherwise the late seventeenth-century organ has stood the test of time remarkably well. It is therefore something of a historical sensation (see the text box historical sensation) to take my place behind the keyboards, pull out a few stops and give voice to age-old pipes.

91. 5 Arthur C.  151. 6 King, ‘Thinking Past a Problem’, pp. 33–7. 7 Leopold von Ranke, Über die Epochen der neueren Geschichte: Vorträge dem Könige Maximilian II von Bayern im Herbst 1854 zu Berchtesgaden gehalten, ed.  17. 8 Fernand Braudel, On History, trans.  39.  P.  9.  12.  20. 12 Frank Ankersmit, Sublime Historical Experience, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, pp. 357–8.  265. 14 Ernst Nolte, ‘Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will: eine Rede, die geschrieben, aber nicht gehalten werden konnte’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (6 June 1986).

The first is that historical reality no longer exists. Although relics from that reality – the medieval church, the seventeenth-century organ, the autographs of some of Bach’s ­compositions – are still among us, the world in which these relics came into existence has gone for good. 19 Consequently, all we can say about that reality is hypothetical, inferred from relics, based on memories or rooted in fantasies about a past that suits our purposes. When historical theorists sometimes speak about ‘the construction of the past’, they do so precisely to highlight this point.

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