". . . 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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Heart & My Head Get Full of Friendship and Lukács

Two amigas from C'town roused themselves in the 4:30 of the dark AM yesterday, met each other and drove in the pouring rain to the town where one catches the bus that takes passengers to NYC.  We ate a lovely lunch at Tea and Sympathy (one of them lived a long time in London, and her husband's mother is English), wandered and shopped and talked and talked and talked.  We walked so much that when I got home bout 6 AM I felt crippled. I had gone over the edge of what I can do.

Crashing hard I was able to curl up with Georg Lukács (have you ever heard anybody employ that locution in connection with Lukács before?).  It's not quick reading, reading this theorist's study of the historical novel.  Last night's reading in this work was the chapter focused on the predecessor foundations of the historical novel and the18th century view of history and historigraphy.  One of the passages that bounced me into calling out to el V, "Please, listen to this!" was this one:

[ " It was the French Revolution, the revolutionary wars and the rise and fall of Napoleon, which for the first time made history a mass experience {itals translator-Lukács's}, and moreover on a European scale.  During the decades between 1789 {me -- two years after the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention} and 1814 {two years after the U.S. declares the war with England called the War of 1812, the Napoleonic wars affecting this nation's part of the globe -- particularly in the part of this nation from when my C'town friends and their forebears were born and still live -- which claimed then as consquence all these lands that immediately became the heart of the slaveholders' Cotton Kingdom} each nation of Europe underwent more upheavals than they had previously experienced in centuries.  And the quick succession of these upheavals gives them a qualitatively distinct character, it makes their historical character far more visible than would be the case in isolated, individual instances: the masses no longer have the impression of a "natural ocurrence".  One need only read over Heine's reminiscences of his youth in Buch le Grand, to quote just one example, where it is vividly shown how the rapid change of governments affected Heine as a boy. Now if experiences such as these are linked with the knowledge that similar upheavals are taking place all over the world, this must enormously strengthen the feeling first that there is such a thing as history, that it is an uninterrupted process of changes and finally that it has a direct effect upon the life of the individual. " ]

We are in one of those eras in which the global masses realize there is such a thing as history that affects each of us individually. This was one of the many topics of the talk talk talk with mis amigas yesterday, via the Occupy Wall Streets and the Arab Spring, how the economic perception the youth of the world has digested that their future has been eaten by the collusion of corporations and politicians.  As both of my friends are grandmothers you don't need to think a moment of how much in sympathy they are with the Occupiers whereever they are located.  But that's only one reason they are in sympathy.  As Lukács points out, back in Russia, in the winter of 1936/7, history affects all of us in personal ways that we see and evaluate.

As part of this subject we spoke of how much we are fearing the winter, not only the weather, which if as bitter and long as last year will eat my friends' budget to heat their homes, but because there are so many destitute people, and the price of food and shelter continues to increase rapidly, while the banks are instituting new ways to squeeze us nearly every week, and our politicians give them all assistance.  The three of us are reminded of scenes of many a novel of Louisa May Alcott, in most of which are characters who are actively attempting to alleviate some of the winter miseries of the destitute classses. What I didn’t know back when I first read these books as a girl is how often those miseries were caused by the financiers’ and the greed, competition and corruption of these new corporations that exploded in the wake of the Civil War, causing financial panics, shutting down credit, going bankrupt, foreclosing, with the additional victimization of inflation and ever-spiraling costs of food and other necessities. Not to mention the labor-capital clashes, the racism against the emancipated and the hostile anti-immigrant exploitation.
So why does it help us to cast what’s going on within the perimeters of Little Women and Rose in Bloom? But it does. It’s also history.  In novels. Couched in terms of personal, individual cause and affect.  Novels didn't do this prior to Scott, whose first historical fiction was published in 1814.

My friends are no tbaggers and never have been -- always staunch dems.  But no longer.  They too know that neither party is an answer, and that both of them are actively enabling the misery of the 99%.  That my friends see this clearly and understand that the Occupiers do as well, says a great deal about the effectiveness of this movement, despite the mediapundocracy superiors instruct us their actions are meaningless.

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