". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Positive Side Effects of the Flu

Bet you didn't think there were any! And you would be correct!

However, as I slowly crawl back to life within the perimeters of cranky and irritability, with windows that open ever a bit wider for encompassing focus, there are books (for some reason I have lost all desire to watch anything).

First, 3 essays by Toni Morrison: Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination -- The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures In the History of Civilization 1990. "She discusses the 'Africanist' presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather and Hemingway." Considering how much Leslie Fiedler's "Come Back to the Raft Again, Huck, Honey," and Love and Death in the American Novel have shaped my thinking about American fiction and American thought in all areas (I spent my sophomore undergrad year reading every novel Fielder discusses and even mentions in LADITAN I could get my hands on -- it even sent me to the rare books room of the university library to gaze upon first editions of Pamela and, particularly Clarissa, which was the Richardson novel Fiedler was really interested in -- and which taught me that you cannot divorce our fiction from our history, our morality, our sociology), I'm shocked this hasn't come my way before. However, better late than never, and all thanks to ithiliana, who tipped me to this book that she's used in her courses.

Then there's the collection of essays, Life In Renaissance France, published in the 1920s! written by Lucien Febvre, who was the mentor and teacher of Fernand Braudel, trans. into English and published here only in 1977. Febvre was a co-founder of the journal, Annales d'histoire économique et sociale (since 1946, the Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations), and thus the name for the school of historical study and writing, the Annales.

I have problems with some of this because I am in the 21st century. To start with, this is all about MAN / MEN, The Man, The Men. He makes statements that are ridiculous to any woman, such as it didn't matter to parents that so many of their children died, since, so many children did die, as did so many who managed to survive infancy and childhood, and the ways to die were so very many. So no grief. It was just what it was. Another problem I have is that he insists that the study of a historical subject must begin with a hypothesis, a theory, and that the student, the researcher then approach all the avenues and materials with the view of supporting this hypothesis. I cannot agree with this, for as we have seen a thousand times, this way false interpretation is rife, starting with ... MAN / MEN and mothers didn't grieve for their lost infants and children.

Still it is fascinating to see the beginning of this movement that was determined to move the teaching of history in the universal French pedegogical system out of the purely chronological -- to illustrate the chronology with its comparative works, to illuminate the history, the past, which is a different way of life, a different way of seeing, than ours. We've been doing this one aloud before bedtime.


K. said...

Out of curiosity, what's the evidence for saying that there was no grief? It's just as easy to assume that there was a lot of grief -- that it was a part of everyday life.

His perspective is culturally racist or at least biased, if you think about it. Do the poor Asian and African mothers and fathers of today grieve less because they live in countries where the infant and child mortality rates are higher?

K. said...

P. S. Glad to hear that you are feeling better. My activity of choice when sick is to watch old movies.

Foxessa said...

There is no evidence of any kind. It's his hypothesis. Which is why I believe he goes arse backwards in his research, but there are some virtues to this methodology.

Not here because of so many unexamined presumptions of his hypothesis, including, number one that he's male, middle class and has never had anything to do with children himself, very likely, considering his generation, born before the 20th century.

Men in particular did not grieve. Besides they were becoming middle class and were away for many years getting rich in the footsteps of Marco Polo or the wake of Christopher Columbus, or becoming scholars or architects.

Febvre, even his translator and foreward writer agree, pushed his hypothesis rather too far when it came to his hobby horse, the Middle Class of Renaissance France, seeing its virtues and influence everywhere, pushing this hypothesis upon everything he gazed, particularly art, rather too muchly.

Coming with a pre-ordained hypothesis to prove, so often closes your eyes to facts that aren't buttressing that hypothesis, or to questions that are really only straw men, or of lesser importance than the question that should be asked.

One of my, and now Ned's, methodologies, is to as fast a survey as possible of the latest materials of research and publication. As with my Polish-Danube-Carpathian project, I couldn't start with any hypothesis. I didn't know anything out of which to create a hypothesis (i.e. the organizing idea or, the plot, for the novel). I couldn't even create characters. Until I kind of did an overflight, landing here and there, and then coming to rest in particular fields and regions. And then you start making connections with what you already know from other researches.

That was the great gift of Febrve and his partner, and the Annales, coming with another method and view for history, that pulled information from so many other disciplines as well as from that driving axle of historical study, which IS chronology, just as the driving axle of fiction is the plot - story. This was truly radical in historical research and writing of the time.

I also deeply appreciate how much Febrve learned from his predessor, Henri Pirenne, who has been declared out-of-date long ago on the European Middle Ages, but for whom I have always retained a respect and found pleasure from. He was the first 'historian' as a historian I was ever aware of, I think. I never forgot how he composed in his head his first thesis of history, and a series of essays illustrating, as a POW, in WWI, and then wrote and published these papers after he was released.

These are the historians who perceive that history itself must be perceived with all 5 of our senses, not only the intellectual, analytical and hypothetical, not only the sense that makes homo sap the time-keeping critter that he is, pulling history as Idea even, out of the wheel of time, that is repetition, not arrow.

Though I think we need to perceive history in cyclical as well as linear time too.

They were from the era, certainly, in which women mattered little if at all in the manly art and discipline of history, either as historians or as subjects or matter. Things have changed so much since then, including that so-long accepted thesis that in eras previous to the domestic comfort revolution of the 18th c that parents cared little personally, rather than economically, if poor, or politically, if of the ruling class, that their children died in birth or soon after or any time prior to the 6 score and ten.

Love, C.

K. said...

If I understand them correctly, sociobiologists would strongly disagree that parental connection with offspring is a relatively recent phenomenon. The argument is that there's a genetic component to parental love -- love of any kind -- and that any mutations happen over thousands of years. The expression of parental feeling may have developed and changed, but that's different than saying there was none at all.

Foxessa said...

Sarah Hrdy (stet) is a socio-biologist who has done brilliant work with mothers and infants -- see her Mother Nature and other works.

She details the entire biological-hormonal process from conception to post-natal that creates this bond, without which homo sap would have died out at birth, certainly.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

But then, you know African slaves and anyone who isn't a white man don't feel things like a white man does, neither physical pain nor emotional intelligence, no more than do animals, who also are here for our use, convenience, etc.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. said...

That goes without saying. I'm surprised you felt the need to comment.

Seriously, can you even begin to imagine the pain those slave families must have felt when they were broken up for no more reason than to pay off the master's debts?

Incidentally, I question that men didn't grieve, especially once the nuclear family was established. They may have repressed it or dealt with it more stoically, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there.

BTW, I've been jamming to Los Lobos for days!

Foxessa said...


But that's Febrve's hypothesis -- men were away and / or busy becoming great scholars and great men, plus all the rest.

Love, C.