". . . 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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

History Has Become a Primary Battleground for Possession of the Present and the Future

We see it here in the U.S. with the Exceptionalist vs. the Marxist historian, the cultural vs the great (white) man, neo-conservative vs. the progressive -- and no more clearly do we see it than in the current battles over who owns the ultimate cause of the Civil War: was it slavery or was it anything, everything, whatever else?

I've always been a history person; it was one half of my double specialization through all my degrees.  However, I used to be the only one at a party who might make a historical reference, a reference that nobody else would get or even notice.  That has changed so much in the last 15 years or so.  This is good.

It's not only the case for this nation.  An old friend from Italy has his film premiered at the Walter Reed - Lincoln Center Italian Film series this week.  It's a 3 hour national epic film dramatizing the struggle for il Risorgimento, following three grunts, so to speak, over several decades of the struggle.  It concludes with disillusionment and cynicism, for the same Italian power elites that battled the progressive forces in alliance with the Catholic Church and the French and the Savoyard kings have also taken over the unification and are back running things their way.

This film is very controversial in Italy.  The youth, the students love it.  It has become so popular that the state television is going to broadcast it in three parts after refusing to do so. The dialog, the speeches, the texts quoted, the newsapaper essays -- all of the words, M. took from primary documented source materials.  Though the Berlusconi forces hate the film they can't argue with what it says about the factionization and the betrayals even within the movement of the glorious unification -- as it is taught in the schools.

Does that sound familiar? 

So we played hooky today and went to the movies.  It's 96 degrees, there is a heat index warning and an air quality warning.  It's gonna be 100 by Friday, They Say.  We had a splendid time after the film, having a late lunch? early dinner? before Mario and his art historian wife had to get on a plane.  From inside the a/c restaurant it looked lovely in the streets around Lincoln Center-- the June light, the lush foliage from the cold wet winter and spring, all the tourists. I felt, "This is what people imagine living in NYC is like when they come to NYC." It was change of pace fun.

We talked of the film, the conditions in Italy, the fortress at the end of Italy where the refugees are held (ye ole Scylla and Charybdis -- both Mario and his wife are stone Naples scions) -- I thought, "I'm not in in C'town now." I also thought, "It would be worth it to get them somehow to New Orleans, to check out the Italian history there as a possibility for a new project."

No comments: