Histoire, mémoire et culture visuelle – Andreas Huyssen

« The geographic dissemination of the culture of memory is both extensive and varied in terms of its political uses, and mobilises myths from the past. For example, the heroic French myth of the Resistance went through a crisis in the 1980s when the past of president Mitterrand came to light. History had been reinvented, and since this reinvention, public debates on memory have been decisive. There is no historiography that does not have a mythical component. Historiography depends on its narrative, although the differences between historical materials and fiction should be made clear: it is one of the dilemmas that arise in all policies of memory. What is real can be « mythologized, » in the same way as what is mythical can create strong effects of reality. In short, memory has become an obsession of monumental proportions in the entire world. »

Andreas Huyssen, entretien avec Sergi Doria (consultable en ligne), Barcelona Metropolis, mars 2010

Fondateur de la revue New German Critique et professeur à Columbia, Andreas Huyssen a beaucoup écrit sur les rapports entre culture visuelle, histoire et mémoire. Il s’est en particulier intéressé à la place que la mémoire des événements traumatiques du vingtième siècle occupe dans les sociétés du début du vingt-et-uniéme siècle. En 2000, dans un article intitulé Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia (qui constituera le premier chapitre de son ouvrage de 2003, Present Pasts : urban palimpsests and the politics of memory), il expose la manière dont il perçoit le développement de ce qu’il identifie comme un muséalisation des société occidentales,  l’avènement d’une véritable obsession mémorielle. Sans entrer dans les détails de sa thèse, les idées défendues sont proches de celles de Paul Ricoeur (qui publie la même année: La Mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli), à la différence que la réflexion menée par l’auteur américain est moins philosophique et que les corpus qu’il étudie sont issus des cultures populaires (terme que je reprends ici de l’auteur et qui est à prendre dans un sens large). L’article consiste également en une réflexion sur les régimes de temporalités ; Andreas Huyssen faisant le constat qu’à un temps orienté vers le futur et le progrès a succédé un temps tourné vers le passé, d’où le titre Present Pasts1. On se propose ici simplement de reprendre une longue citation qui présente une position, encore aujourd’hui considérée comme hétérodoxe (au moins en France).

« Whatever the social and political causes of the memory boom may have been, one thing is certain: We cannot discuss personal, generational, or public memory separate from the enormous influence of the new media as carriers of all forms of memory. Thus it is no longer possible, for instance, to think of the Holocaust or of any other historical trauma as a serious ethical and political issue apart from the multiple ways it is now linked to commodification and spectacularization in films, museums, docudramas, Internet sites, photography books, comics, fiction, even fairy tales (Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella) and pop songs. But even if the Holocaust has been endlessly commodified, that does not mean that each and every commodification inevitably banalizes it as historical event. There is no pure space outside of commodity culture, however much we may desire such a space. Much depends, therefore, on the specific strategies of representation and commodification and on the context in which they are staged. Similarly, the presumably trivial Erlebnisgesellschaft of mass-marketed life styles, spectacles, and fleeting events is not devoid of a substantive lived reality that underlies its surface manifestations. My argument here is this: The problem is not solved by simply opposing serious memory to trivial memory, the way historians sometimes oppose history to memory tout court, memory as the subjective and trivial stuff out of which the historian makes the real thing. We cannot simply pit the serious Holocaust museum against some Disneyfied theme parks. For this would only reproduce the old high/low dichotomy of modernist culture in a new guise, as it did in the heated debate that pitted Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah as a proper representation (i.e., as nonrepresentation) of Holocaust memory against Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as commercial trivialization. For once we acknowledge the constitutive gap between reality and its representation in language or image, we must in principle be open to many different possibilities of representing the real and its memories. This is not to say that anything goes. The question of quality remains one to be decided case by case. But the semiotic gap cannot be closed by the one and only correct representation. To argue that amounts to Holocaust modernism. Indeed, phenomena such as Schindler’s List and Spielberg’s visual archive of Holocaust survivor testimonies compel us to think traumatic memory and entertainment memory together as occupying the same public space, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive phenomena. Key questions (p. 29) of contemporary culture are precisely located at the threshold between traumatic memory and the commercial media. It is too easy to argue that the fun events and spectacles of contemporary media societies exist only to provide relief to a social and political body haunted by deep memories of violence and genocide perpetrated in its name, or that they are only mounted to repress such memories. For trauma is marketed just as much as the fun is, and not even for different memory consumers. (p. 30) »

Andreas Huyssen, « Present Pasts : Media, Politics, Amnesia », Public Culture, vol. 12, n°1, hiver 2000, p. 29-30.

  1. en cela, son approche est différente de celles d’auteurs comme Koselleck et Hartog, qui articulent les régimes d’historicité en trois temps : 1/ temps orienté vers le passé et la tradition, 2/ temps orienté vers le futur et le progrès, 3/ omniprésence du présent. []

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