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Oblivion

2004
Author:

Marc Augé
Translated by Marjolijn de Jager
Foreword by James E. Young

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A renowned social thinker considers the nature and necessity of forgetting

For the health of the individual and the society, oblivion is as necessary as memory. One must know how to forget, Marc Augé suggests, not just to live fully in the present but also to comprehend the past. Oblivion moves with authority among a variety of sources to illustrate the interplay of memory and forgetting in the stories told across cultures and times.

This beautifully written book provides an extremely valuable addition to the literature on memory.

The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“Remembering or forgetting is doing gardener’s work, selecting, pruning. Memories are like plants: there are those that need to be quickly eliminated in order to help the others burgeon, transform, flower.”

For the health of the psyche and the culture, for the individual and the whole society, oblivion is as necessary as memory. One must know how to forget, Marc Augé suggests, not just to live fully in the present but also to comprehend the past.

Renowned as an anthropologist and an innovative social thinker, Augé’s meditation moves from how forgetting the present or recent past enables us to return to earlier pasts, to how forgetting propels us into the present, and finally to how forgetting becomes a necessary part of survival. Oblivion moves with authority and ease among a wide variety of sources—literature, common experience, psychoanalysis, philosophy, ethnography—to illustrate the interplay of memory and forgetting in the stories of life and death told across many cultures and many times. Memory and oblivion, he concludes, cannot be separated: “Memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of the shore are created by the sea.”

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Marc Augé is director of L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is the author of numerous books, most notably In the Metro (Minnesota, 2002) and Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.

Marjolijn de Jager translates from both French and Dutch, and was also the translator of V. Y. Mudimbe’s The Rift (Minnesota, 1993). She teaches literary translation at New York University.

Book Default Image

This beautifully written book provides an extremely valuable addition to the literature on memory.

The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

Breaks new ground by introducing the theme of Oblivion—a challenging reflection on memory and forgetting. The essay is far-reaching, advancing the concept of oblivion through brief but suggestive explorations. Augé turns the tables on scholarship. Oblivion is stimulating and revives a way of thinking about memory forgotten by many contemporary theorists.

Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

A brief but engaging essay on the connection between memory and forgetting. Augé’s mastery of ethnological, cultural and historical detail is particularly illuminating. Augé’s investigations here throw up many interesting insights and insoluble questions that are ripe for further meditation and exploration.

Canadian Journal of Sociology