The concept of remembrance in Walter Benjamin

This thesis argues that the role played by the concept of remembrance (Eingedenken) in Walter Benjamin's 'theory of the knowledge of history' and in his engagement with Enlightenment universal history, is a crucial one. The implications of Benjamin's contention that history's 'original vocation' is 'remembrance' have hitherto gone largely unnoticed. The following thesis explores the meaning of the concept of remembrance and assesses the significance of this proposed link between history and memory, looking at both the mnemonic aspect of history and the historical facets of memory. It argues that by mobilising the simultaneously destructive and constructive capacities of remembrance, Benjamin sought to develop a critical historiography which would enable a radical encounter with a previously suppressed past. In so doing he takes up a stance (explicit and implicit) towards existing philosophical conceptions of history, in particular the idea of universal history found in German Idealism. Benjamin reveals an intention to retain the epistemological aspirations of universal history whilst ridding that approach of its apologetic moment. He criticises existing conceptions of history on the basis that each assumes homogeneous time to be the framework in which historical events occur. Insight into the distinctive temporality of remembrance proves to be the touchstone for this critique, and provides a paradigm for a very different conception of time. The thesis goes on to determine what is valid and what is problematic both in this concept of remembrance and in the theory of historical knowledge which it informs, by subjecting both to the most cogent criticisms which can be levelled at them. What emerges is not only the importance of this concept for an understanding of Benjamin's philosophy but the pertinence of this concept for any philosophical account of memory
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