The Nightmare of History and the Burden of the Past

  • Vincent J. Cheng
Part of the New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature book series (NDIIAL)


William Faulkner wrote famously that in the American South, “[t]he past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Indeed, for the modern world, the past seems a burden that one—whether an individual or a community—has to carry around in the present. Many modern thinkers have been thus engaged in a memory crisis arising out of this obsession with the power and the burden—of the past, what Milan Kundera calls “the burden of memory.” This chapter explores the issues involved in trying to extinguish the past (and the memory of the past), focusing particularly on Joyce’s and Kundera’s novels, but also on novels by Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Walker Percy—within Nietzsche’s and Renan’s arguments about the desirability of forgetting.


Forgetting Amnesia Colonialism Memory History Imagination Repression The American South Ireland Czechoslovakia Race Joyce Kundera Renan Nietzsche Ford Fitzgerald Percy 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vincent J. Cheng
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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