The Past is a Foreign Country

Lowenthal, David

In this remarkably wide-ranging book Professor Lowenthal analyses the ever-changing role of the past in shaping our lives. A heritage at once nurturing and burdensome, the past allows us to make sense of the present whilst imposing powerful constraints upon the way that present develops. Some aspects of the past are celebrated, others expunged, as each generation reshapes its legacy in line with current needs. Drawing on all the arts, the humanities and the social sciences, the author uses sources as diverse as science fiction and psychoanalysis to examine how rebellion against inherited tradition has given rise to the modern cult of preservation and pervasive nostalgia. Profusely illustrated, The Past is a Foreign Country shows that although the past has ceased to be a sanction for inherited power or privilege, as a focus of personal and national identity and as a bulwark against massive and distressing change it remains as potent a force as ever in human affairs. Editorial Reviews From the Publisher "This book is splendid on nostalgia, too, and marvelous on those little bits and pieces from the vanished past which serve to legitimate and celebrate. Best of all to my mind, in an amazing array of illustrations, is the tacked-up timber Grecian pediment presiding over the shack which houses a branch of the Security Marine Bank of Madison, Wisconsin. It is, as you will see, a book which you will enjoy, if you know that the past attracts you, or if you think you are immune to its spell..." Washington Post Book World "David Lowenthal gives us a new understanding of a univeral human experience by imaginatively refashioning the remains and records of the past in England and America from the Reanaissance to our own time...a significant milestone in the history of thought and culture." Merle Curti, University of Wisconsin Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly The past reassures us and helps us to avoid mistakes. It also saps present purposes; tradition is a brake on progress. How we respond to the past, for better or worse, is the theme of this highly original, erudite survey by an American scholar based in London. We are incapable of leaving the past alone, Lowenthal maintains; nostalgia motivates youthful Elvis Presley impersonators and inspires a reverence for Art Deco. On the other hand, monuments may have only the slightest resemblance to the events or people they are meant to enshrine. Just as Lord Elgin dismantled the Parthenon, so today we uproot prehistoric relics; replicas and imitations color the aura of antiquity. A Midwestern laundromat sports a Viking warrior's face to conjure up ties to a mythic past. Over 100 photographs of buildings and objects, plus reproductions of paintings and sketches, illustrate artifacts from everyday life and history. In the Space Age, asserts Lowenthal, we're scarcely aware of the past at all, and that attitude may cancel our future. This imaginative book dislodges deeply held assumptions. February

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