Social Criticism and Political Thought: Presentism: The Politics of Memory in the Age of Neoliberalism

Thu, Nov 16, 2017, 12:00 pm
301 Marx Hall

Enzo Traverso, Cornell University

Enzo Traverso has been Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities at Cornell University since 2013. He studied at the University of Genoa, Italy, and received his Ph.D. from the EHESS, Paris (1989). His last publications include Fire and Blood: The European Civil War (Verso, 2016); The End of Jewish Modernity: History of a Conservative Turn (Pluto Press, 2016); and Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History and Memory (Columbia University Press, 2017).

Often defined as “presentism,” the regime of historicity of the beginning of the twenty-first century posits a kind of perpetual present, absorbing in itself both past and future. It corresponds with a neoliberal ethos that eternizes the current economic order, praises individualism and condemns any form of collective action. It avoids any critical elaboration of the past and promotes its reification (the “realms of memory”), neutralizing at the same time all its potentialities for a recollection oriented towards a political action in the present. Thus, in contrast with the two preceding centuries, which were shaped by the impact of the French and Russian Revolutions, the twenty-first century has begun under the sign of the eclipse of utopias. The disappearance of a visible “horizon of expectation” has generated a charged memory of the past as a time of violence, totalitarianism and genocide, encapsulated by the image of their victims. Between cultural industry and neoliberal anthropological models, the legacy of past collective movements becomes a “Marrano” memory.