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Trauma and the Limits of Redemptive Critique: Interrogating the Haunting Voices of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

The Diversity of Social Theories

ISBN: 978-0-85724-821-3, eISBN: 978-0-85724-822-0

Publication date: 12 October 2011


The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 shook the Soviet Union to the core and provided the West with the iconic image of the freedom fighter willing to risk all for the cause of freedom. The pathos of the lost cause provided Hungarians with a new set of heroes akin to those of the failed 1848 Revolution, the best known being Prime Minister Imre Nagy who was executed for siding with the revolutionaries in their bid to establish a sovereign republic. His belated funeral on June 16, 1989 undermined the moral and political authority of the communist regime that had attempted to consign Nagy and his confederates to oblivion and seemed to mimic Emile Durkheim's analysis of piaculum and the conscience collective. But the spectacle of Nagy's funeral only temporarily shrouded significant differences between and within those factions demanding pluralist society, most recently revealed in the acrimonious celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. These debates are rooted in Hungary's deeply troubled past that strongly questioned republican values in contrast to the authoritarian values of the Hapsburg monarchy, alliance with the Axis, genocide, and its relationship to communism in the wake of the disaster of World War II. Jacques Derrida tells us that it is not easy to exorcise our ghosts; instead, we are prompted to reconstruction. Memory studies, stimulated by studies of the Holocaust, transformed the sociological imagination (especially Friedlander, 1993; LaCapra, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 1998d). There has been what Michael Roth referred to as “a turning of oneself so as to be in relation to the past” as an act of witness. The traumatic memory of the 1956 Revolution provides yet another case in which a traumatic past is still salient to the political actors in the contemporary arena. This chapter immerses itself in the emergence of historical sociology and with it “memory studies,” that is: (1) the relationship between identity, memory, and embodiment; and (2) the relationship between historical circumstance and collective memory formation (described in diverse approaches such as Adorno, 1959; 1997; Nora, 1989; Postone, Martha, & Kobyashi 2009). In particular, there is in historical sociology an emergent interest in (1) commemorative practices, memorializing addresses, memento; and (2) the struggles over memory, remembering, and forgetting.


Benziger, K.P. and Weiner, R.R. (2011), "Trauma and the Limits of Redemptive Critique: Interrogating the Haunting Voices of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution", Dahms, H.F. (Ed.) The Diversity of Social Theories (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 29), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 57-88.



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