Wednesday, 10 September 2014 09:31 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)
Seventy years after the horror of Hiroshima, intellectuals negotiate a vastly changed cultural, political and moral geography. Pondering what Hiroshima means for American history and consciousness proves as fraught an intellectual exercise as taking up this critical issue in the years and decades that followed this staggering inhumanity, albeit for vastly different reasons. Now that we are living in a 24/7 screen culture hawking incessant apocalypse, how we understand Foucault’s pregnant observation that history is always a history of the present takes on a greater significance, especially in light of the fact that historical memory is not simply being rewritten but is disappearing. (1) Once an emancipatory pedagogical and political project predicated on the right to study, and engage the past critically,history has receded into a depoliticizing culture of consumerism, a wholesale attack on science, the glorification of military ideals, an embrace of the punishing state, and a nostalgic invocation of the greatest generation. Inscribed in insipid patriotic platitudes and decontextualized isolated facts, history under the reign of neoliberalism has been either cleansed of its most critical impulses and dangerous memories, or it has been reduced to a contrived narrative that sustains the fictions and ideologies of the rich and powerful. History has not only become a site of collective amnesia but has also been appropriated so as to transform “the past into a container full of colorful or colorless, appetizing or insipid bits, all floating with the same specific gravity.” (2) Consequently, what intellectuals now have to say about Hiroshima and history in general is not of the slightest interest to nine-tenths of the American population. While writers of fiction might find such a generalized, public indifference to their craft, freeing, even “inebriating” as Philip Roth has recently written, for the chroniclers of history it is a cry in the wilderness. (3)
The disimagination machine threatens democratic public life by devaluing social agency, historical memory and critical consciousness, and in doing so it creates the conditions for people to be ethically compromised and politically infantilized.
At same time the legacy of Hiroshima is present but grasped, as the existential anxieties and dread of nuclear annihilation that racked the early 1950s to a contemporary fundamentalist fatalism embodied in collective uncertainty, a predilection for apocalyptic violence, a political economy of disposability, and an expanding culture of cruelty that has fused with the entertainment industry. We’ve not produced a generation of war protestors or government agitators to be sure, but rather a generation of youth who no longer believe they have a future that will be any different from the present. (4) That such connections tying the past to the present are lost signal not merely the emergence of a disimagination machine that wages an assault on historical memory, civic literacy and civic agency. It also points to a historical shift in which the perpetual disappearance of that atomic moment signals a further deepening in our own national psychosis.