20th Century

Perhaps we are too close to the close of the twentieth century for us to have any meaningful way of encapsulating it. Perhaps we see too much of the twentieth century in our present day for us to know what to say. In thinking about that century, we realize the problems of periodization. Here are possible ways we could define it:

  • The era of World War
  • The era of Communism vs. Capitalism
  • The end of Reason
  • The end of God
  • The end of Science
  • The birth of the internet
  • The birth of the airplane
  • The decline of oil
  • The rise of environmentalism
  • The birth of the UN and attendant declarations such as the 1948 Declaration of Universal Human Rights
  • The birth of the World Bank
  • The rise of feminism and the civil rights movement.
  • Global decolonization
  • The century of genocide

All of these, and more, are possible definitions. If we were to choose one, what else would be omitted? What would we be saying about our present day? For example, if we said it was the era of decolonization (which is true), are we also claiming that we live in a postcolonial world? Given that we thinking of colonization as wrong, is a post-colonial world a better world, necessarily?

The extract of Alain Resnais’ beautiful Hiroshima Mon Amour addresses some of the fundamental questions thinkers about the twentieth century have come to face. The film opens with two lovers intertwined. The intimacy they share is juxtaposed with their disparate narrations of what happened at Hiroshima. One relies up personal experience to know what happened; the other relies upon the museum. What does this tell us about the institution of the museum (a nineteenth century invention, by the way)?


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