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The anatomy of memory politics: a formalist analysis of Tate Britain’s ‘Artist and Empire’ and the struggle over Britain’s imperial past

The anatomy of memory politics: a formalist analysis of Tate Britain’s ‘Artist and Empire’ and... In this paper, I propose a new approach for understanding the meaning of memory politics, which draws upon the archetypal literary criticism of Northrop Frye. I suggest that the four archetypes elaborated by Frye—comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire—can be used as a heuristic device for interpreting the contested historical narratives that are associated with the politics of memory. I illustrate this approach through a case-study of Artists and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2016, amidst increasing contestation over the meaning of the British Empire. In sum, I find that the exhibit narrated Britain’s imperial past as a comedy, in which a key theme was the progressive cultural mixing of the British and the people they colonized. To conclude, I discuss the implications of such a narrative for constructing an inclusive, postcolonial British identity. As an alternative, I draw on Aristotle to suggest that a tragic narrative would have been more propitious. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Journal of Cultural Sociology Springer Journals

The anatomy of memory politics: a formalist analysis of Tate Britain’s ‘Artist and Empire’ and the struggle over Britain’s imperial past

American Journal of Cultural Sociology , Volume 9 (3): 26 – Sep 1, 2021

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Publisher
Springer Journals
Copyright
Copyright © Springer Nature Limited 2019
ISSN
2049-7113
eISSN
2049-7121
DOI
10.1057/s41290-019-00081-y
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

In this paper, I propose a new approach for understanding the meaning of memory politics, which draws upon the archetypal literary criticism of Northrop Frye. I suggest that the four archetypes elaborated by Frye—comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire—can be used as a heuristic device for interpreting the contested historical narratives that are associated with the politics of memory. I illustrate this approach through a case-study of Artists and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2016, amidst increasing contestation over the meaning of the British Empire. In sum, I find that the exhibit narrated Britain’s imperial past as a comedy, in which a key theme was the progressive cultural mixing of the British and the people they colonized. To conclude, I discuss the implications of such a narrative for constructing an inclusive, postcolonial British identity. As an alternative, I draw on Aristotle to suggest that a tragic narrative would have been more propitious.

Journal

American Journal of Cultural SociologySpringer Journals

Published: Sep 1, 2021

Keywords: Collective memory; Formalism; Northrop Frye; British Empire; National identity; Tate Britain

References