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History's Remains: Of Memory, Mourning, and the Event

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Jacques Derrida has written much in recent years on the topic of mourning. This essay takes Derrida's insights into mourning in general and collective mourning in particular in order to ask about the relationship between mourning and politics. Taking a lead from a recent work of Derrida's on Jean-François Lyotard, the essay develops its argument through two examples, one from ancient Greece and one from twentiethcentury America: the role mourning plays in the constitution and maintenance of the state in Plato's Laws and the controversy surrounding the consecration of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier of Vietnam in Arlington National Cemetery. This latter example provides the occasion for questioning the possibilities of mourning the unknown or the unidentifiable and for addressing some of the ways in which the United States has mourned or failed to mourn, remembered or failed to remember, in the wake of September 11.

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