Memory, memorials, and commemoration 1

History and Theory 47 (3):331-350 (2008)

Abstract

According to a popular view, the past is present here and now. This is presentism combined with endurantism: the past continuously persists through time to the present. By contrast, I argue that memories, memorials, and histories are of entities discontinuous with present experiences, and that the continuity between past and present in them is a construct. Memories, memorials, and histories are semantic means for dealing with the past. My presupposition that past and present are different is supported by grammar: as verbal tenses show, the past is not present here and now, for otherwise it would not be past. A failure to note this difference is a lack of chronesthesia, a sense of time specific to human beings. I argue that presentism fails to account for the temporal structures of memory and the changes in perspective as we switch from the present to a past situation. My account is perdurantist in the sense that it allows for temporal parts of things such as memorials or tombstones, as well as events such as wars or commemorations. But my main goal is to outline a semantic approach to the past: the tie between past and present actions and events is the semantic ground–consequence relation: a past event is the antecedent grounding a present situation, explaining why it is the case. In addition, I show how we refer to the past by means of two rhetorical figures of speech: synecdoche, using the part–whole relation for relating the past to the present by transposing its sense; and anaphor, which has a deictic function—it points back toward the past. In references to the past, the deictic field is a scene visualized by the speaker and addressees: the deictic field is transposed from a perceptual to an imaginary space

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