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In "The Revolutionary Spirit and its Lost Treasure" (On Revolution, 1963) Hannah Arendt considered how to preserve that spirit after the uprising had transitioned to orderly nation building. The core of the spirit was, according to her, the possibility of starting anew, the possibility of action, and the position of being beginners in an enterprise. Paradoxically, the revolution eventually set up institutions that prevented widespread participation by all, as was possible during the upsurge of revolutionary action. As Arendt bitterly points out, the name "Soviet Union" remained as a nod to the popularity of the soviet system while the actuality was reduced to impotence. In such a situation, what remained for the revolutionary except to recall through memory and retelling the spirit of the beginning? Arendt considered poet René Char, whose poetry betrayed an anxiety about the arrival of liberation– for he knew that with the removal of a public role, he would have to withdraw from a space where he had found himself, ultimately repressing the treasure found during the time of liberatory struggle. Considering the melancholy that sets in after postcolonial nations’ actual experience of post-liberation, what modes of remembering are available for those navigating the crushing disappointment of the day after?
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Image: Dutch journalist Peter Custers (1949-2015), in film still from Last Man in Dhaka Central (82 mins; director: Naeem Mohaiemen, 2015).
Last Man in Dhaka Central (dir: Naeem Mohaiemen, 82 min, 2015)
A summer of tigers ended with a failed Maoist mutiny. Along with the leaders, also arrested was Peter Custers–a Dutch journalist who refused to leave the country even amidst signs of danger. Last Man in Dhaka Central unspools two stories in reverse. In a series of newsreels, we start with Peter’s release. In parallel, memories unravel over books and magazines in his Netherlands home.
- Fellow Naeem Mohaiemen Lecturer in Anthropology and Institute for Comparative Literature & Society Columbia University
- Chair David Scott Professor of Anthropology Columbia University