Meaningful pasts: Post #15

1. What objects from the past do you particularly treasure?

I’d need to make a distinction between the past as a generic term that applies to, for example, places I visit; and ‘my’ past, in which case there are some objects that I treasure and that mean a lot to me. About the former, I take great pleasure in visiting sites that remind us of past cultures and civilizations, mostly, through buildings or excavated ruins, and these can be anywhere. More recently, I visited Gordes in Vaucluse Provence, a very unique place, nothing like anything I’ve seen before and a vivid reminder of a past that I want to know more about. About the latter, there is an illustrated edition of Alice in Wonderland that my wife gave me a while ago; that is a present and book that I treasure most certainly.

2. Do you think that some objects from the past are best forgotten?

Yes. Memory has limits, which is not to say that there are things or objects that we shouldn’t remember: a question that is challenging enough for individuals, let alone groups and societies.

3. What intangible pasts (e.g. customs and languages) are meaningful to you?

Dancing. I grew up in a culture where dancing is part of how you communicate with your peers: you talk, you write, but you also dance. There’s a profound wisdom to that. Also, the memories of my parents.

4. How is it best to preserve these intangible pasts?

In the case of dance, I’m not sure you can preserve it, or at least, preserve all of it. The most effective way of doing so is by preserving traditions from, say, typical country dances to your older brother’s attempts at teaching you how to master the key salsa steps. This is the kind of conserving that is kept alive by the simple act of doing, but what is ‘done’ changes across generations. In the case of memories, the most obvious route would be oral history.

5. If we save more and more objects and intangible pasts, is there a danger that there will be too much past in the future?

There can never be too much past in the future. I think the question is about coming to terms and taking responsibility for what is preserved and what isn’t; recognising the paths that lead to decisions, the limitations involved in the process and the consequences of leaving in or out parts of our pasts.

Male, 40s, academic


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