Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering

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9780520086531: Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering

Analyzing the ways U.S. culture has been formed and transformed in the 80s and 90s by its response to the Vietnam War and the AIDS epidemic, Marita Sturken argues that each has disrupted our conventional notions of community, nation, consensus, and "American culture." She examines the relationship of camera images to the production of cultural memory, the mixing of fantasy and reenactment in memory, the role of trauma and survivors in creating cultural comfort, and how discourses of healing can smooth over the tensions of political events.

Sturken's discussion encompasses a brilliant comparison of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the AIDS Quilt; her profound reading of the Memorial as a national wailing wall—one whose emphasis on the veterans and war dead has allowed the discourse of heroes, sacrifice, and honor to resurface at the same time that it is an implicit condemnation of war—is particularly compelling. The book also includes discussions of the Kennedy assassination, the Persian Gulf War, the Challenger explosion, and the Rodney King beating. While debunking the image of the United States as a culture of amnesia, Sturken also shows how remembering itself is a form of forgetting, and how exclusion is a vital part of memory formation.

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Review:

In Tangled Memories, Marita Sturken attempts to explain how events take on cultural meaning through what she calls "technologies of memory," primarily monuments, texts, icons and images. She argues memory has as much to do with fantasy and invention as with truth and that it attains a narrative form separate from history and possessed of its own political significance. Although it focuses primarily on the Vietnam War and the AIDS epidemic, her book also takes in the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, the beating of Rodney King, and the Gulf War. Sturken's conclusions are often belabored: that the American Vietnam memorial fails to capture the horrors brought upon the Vietnamese people is a rather unoriginal and obvious insight she blames on the "underlying nationalism of the Washington Mall." Does the AIDS quilt she documents likewise obscure the worldwide ravages of the disease when spread upon the Mall? The theoretical discussion of memory and representation often bogs down in the political positions the author assumes rather than defends. One of the pities of such difficult exposition is that a relatively superb chapter on the Gulf War is "forgotten,"a mere 22 pages of her 358-page book.

From the Inside Flap:

"A startlingly original and integrated work that considers the ways in which American culture narrates, remembers, and thereby reenacts traumatic events in order to found and refound itself as a national culture. It is a remarkable interdisciplinary study."—Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts

"Tangled Memories is first-rate: it is exhaustively researched, has an immense command of the literature, and brims with fascinating and original insights. It is a very important book."—James E. Young, author of The Texture of Memory

"This book makes a major contribution to our understanding of U.S. culture in the past two decades."—John Carlos Rowe, coeditor of The Vietnam War and American Culture

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Marita Sturken
Published by University of California Press (1997)
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Sturken, Marita
Published by University of California Press (1997)
ISBN 10: 0520086538 ISBN 13: 9780520086531
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