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Remembering to Forget: Testimony, Collective Memory and the Genesis of the ‘New\' South African Nation in <i>Country of My Skull</i>

JL Coullie


In this essay I consider the role of memory in the creation of the post-apartheid nation: how does memory – individual and communal – function in the shaping of nationhood? Specifically, how does a text such as Antjie Krog\'s Country of My Skull, which seeks to straddle the divide of personal, individualised memory and collective memory, contribute to this process in post-apartheid South Africa? Drawing on the proliferation of testimonies which emerged from the Truth Commission, in this text Krog actively contributes to the construction of collective memory. But, as Ernest Renan reminds us, although “the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common” – and shared historical narratives are crucial in this regard – it is equally important that the nation collectively suppresses specific aspects of knowledge of the past. Renan continues: “Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of the nation”. What is it that Country of My Skull asks us to remember, what should we forget? And what are the ethical implications thereof?

Current Writing Vol. 19 (2) 2007: pp. 123-143

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eISSN: 2159-9130
print ISSN: 1013-929X