The Past is a Foreign Country

David Lowenthal, Author Cambridge University Press $44.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-521-22415-4
The past reassures us and helps us to avoid mistakes. It also saps present purposes; tradition is a brake on progress. How we respond to the past, for better or worse, is the theme of this highly original, erudite survey by an American scholar based in London. We are incapable of leaving the past alone, Lowenthal maintains; nostalgia motivates youthful Elvis Presley impersonators and inspires a reverence for Art Deco. On the other hand, monuments may have only the slightest resemblance to the events or people they are meant to enshrine. Just as Lord Elgin dismantled the Parthenon, so today we uproot prehistoric relics; replicas and imitations color the aura of antiquity. A Midwestern laundromat sports a Viking warrior's face to conjure up ties to a mythic past. Over 100 photographs of buildings and objects, plus reproductions of paintings and sketches, illustrate artifacts from everyday life and history. In the Space Age, asserts Lowenthal, we're scarcely aware of the past at all, and that attitude may cancel our future. This imaginative book dislodges deeply held assumptions. February
Reviewed on: 02/01/1986
Release date: 02/01/1986
Paperback - 516 pages - 978-0-521-29480-5
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