Nietzsche once wrote that ‘it is impossible to live at all without forgetting.’ His point was that without forgetting, we would be deprived of cheerfulness, hope, and happiness, and instead be weighed down with all that has happened to us—all the pain, suffering, resentment and bad conscience we have accumulated within us. We suppress the past in order ‘to heal wounds, replace what has been lost, and recreate broken moulds.’ When it comes to making historical sense of all that is around us, forgetting, rather than remembering, is the norm. Yet we can’t forget everything, nor forget all the time. Indeed, there are occasions when we feel the need, or are called upon, to remember.
In this, our Winter issue for 2005, The Oxonian Review of Books explores the theme of anniversaries. The anniversary is one of the ways through which we relive our memories, our collection of experiences. Whether it is national holidays or commemorations of landmark events, anniversaries snap us out of our usual state of historical amnesia. They drip-feed us with the images, myths, rituals and traditions which connect us to our past. They reassure us that we belong, supplying us with an awareness of our continuity through space and time. But what does it truly mean for us to ‘remember’ something when we mark an anniversary?
We sometimes, it seems, value the anniversary as something to enable us to reconstruct a moment or the richness of an original experience. I remember the ritual back in my schooldays in Sydney, when on Anzac Day (the Australian national day of remembrance), we would ‘remember’ all those who served and died for our
country—listening to recollections about battles fought and sacrifices made, and being asked to recreate in our minds what our forebears had experienced. But is this the real reason we ‘remember’ something that might have happened 50, 100, or 200 years ago? From a time we cannot conceivably ‘remember’?
Benedict Anderson once suggested our consciousness is something that we ‘imagine,’ something which in large part is narrated to us. As much as they are our own, our memories are also lived through the stories we share with others; and through these stories, we in turn come to absorb the memories of those around us. We assimilate our memories into broader scripts about ourselves and our societies. Memories don’t exist on their own, but as part of some ongoing conversation. Perhaps, more than anything, it is these conversations that we celebrate and affirm when we observe an anniversary.
In this issue, we take up such conversations from the perspective of the critic, historian and scientist, reflecting on some of the milestones that have been celebrated in 2005. Jacob Foster’s essay on the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Papers draws attention to the ‘young Einstein’ that has been overshadowed within much of Einstein mythology. Matthew Nicholls offers us a review of Roger Knight’s The Pursuit of Victory, in light of the recent commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Tyler Fisher reflects on the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quijote, acknowledged by many to be the first modern novel. We take a poetic turn with James Womack, whose essay on the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass highlights Walt Whitman’s influence as a totemic figure in American cultural and political life.
This brings us to this edition’s country profile on the United States of America. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather shares his thoughts on former president Ronald Reagan’s ability to connect with the American public and the American national story. We take a closer look at the complexities of American nationhood through Michael Lindsay’s review of Desmond King’s The Liberty of Strangers. Reflecting on the recent judicial nominations in Washington, Dov Fox takes a look at the possibility of an elected American Supreme Court. Patrick Belton reviews My FBI, the memoirs of Louis Freeh, FBI director in the Clinton administration.
Other books reviewed in this Winter issue include
Zadie Smith’s Booker Prize-nominated On Beauty; Haruki Murakami’s latest offering, Kafka on the Shore; On Nineteen Eighty-Four: George Orwell and Our Future, an edited volume of essays about George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel; and the second volume of The Mitrokhin Archives, documenting the single largest cache of KGB intelligence ever received by the West. Our Arts and Culture section includes an opera double-bill review of Wagner’s Siegfried and Barry’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, a review of Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris at the Tate Modern, and a reflection from Avery Willis on her time on tour in Cairo producing the play, The Constant Prince.