Michael S. Roth


On his book Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past

Cover Interview of November 13, 2011

In a nutshell

Memory, Trauma and History is comprised of essays that fall into five overlapping subject areas: history and memory; psychoanalysis and trauma; postmodernism, scholarship, and cultural politics; photography and representation; and liberal education.  My concern in all of these areas is how people make sense of the past, a question that reverberates across the social sciences and the humanities.

In the first section I examine how doctors in France in the nineteenth century recognized pathologies of memory.  What was their conception of a normal memory, and how did this figure in their diagnoses of abnormalities? These essays deal with the diseases of amnesia, split personality, nostalgia and hysteria.

Subsequent sections deal more with the theoretical approaches to normal and abnormal connections to the past. How does psychoanalysis change our relation to making meaning from memory? What do postmodernism and photography have to teach us about the politics and aesthetic choices we make in piecing together our histories? These are the kinds of issues that interest me in my exploration of particular thinkers and artists.