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Jack Solloway on Gabriel Josipovici

Amid fierce debates about cultural memorialisation on both sides of the Atlantic, Jack Solloway reviews Gabriel Josipovici’s new book-length essay, Forgetting, to locate Josipovici’s sympathies:

Cultural memory remains a fraught topic and has supplied ample munition for many a Good Morning Britain-style shit-flinging contest between conservatives and progressives in the media. That we now see rubber bullets and riot shields on our screens should come as no surprise. Disagreements over how we invoke the past, whether on television or social media, touch on tribally guarded issues such as national identity, colonialism, patriotism, trade unions, and monuments in public spaces. Thankfully, Forgetting is a welcome reprieve from partisan hooliganism and the so-called culture war, quietly damning of the likes of Piers Morgan and his goading over the relative sainthood (or villainy) of Winston Churchill.

The writer-critic Josipovici — born to Egyptian-Jewish parents in Nazi-occupied France — is at his best when interrogating how memory behaves collectively in moments of shift in the cultural landscape. His writing in praise of reticence and the survivor’s right to forget is particularly excellent, ever sensitive to the spectrum that exists between ostensibly binary extremes (remembering/forgetting, sleep/wakefulness, repression/ liberty). In an essay titled ‘Nietzsche and the Need to Sleep’, he uses sleep as a metaphor for how he believes we should attend personal and cultural memory: “In the end we have to be awake to the demands of the present as of the past and to be prepared to change our minds, always.”