Great interview. I’ve been slowly working my way through The Histories lately, and this attitude reminded me of Herodotus:
If I were simply to present these people talking about the deep past at face value, an historian would almost immediately say, “Gourevitch was taken in by these guys and their spin on history.” But to me what’s interesting—and the way I’ll present it—is that this is how they are invoking and recounting their inheritance, which may or may not be historically accurate. […] It’s an identity story as much as an accurate history.
On memory and moving on:
There’s a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust—the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking—the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory—hallowed memory—can be a kind of disease. That’s one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I’m not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with memory.
And there’s this:
There’s no such thing as a story all by itself. Stories don’t exist in solitude—they exist in relation to other stories.