". . . 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

Monday, November 7, 2011

*Paradise Postponed*

Paradise Postponed was a 1986 BBC series written by John Mortimer, the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey; PBS broadcast it in the U.S.  Mortimer wrote the novel of Paradise Postponed at the same time he wrote the scripts for the series; critics have written that the novel is inferior to what we see on the screen.  I've not read the novel, but I'm watching the series, and it is wonderful.

U.S. critics say the series is excruciatingly slow and most of it, if not exactly dull, is inpenetrable to most U.S. viewers.  This is the case because what turns the narrative is rooted in the changes in the English political landscape over a period of about 50 years.  The narrative flashes back to the 50's, 60's and 70's, not necessarily in that order, always returning to the present of the 80's in which the oldest son of one of the families attempts to fight the will that leaves the family money to someone who isn't part of the family.  During these back-and-forths the narrative traces the rise and fall of families and communities and classes, among the ebbs and turns of the Labor and Conservative party currents, and the Thatcher Tory triumph of the 80's.

But I find this series engrossing and amusing from the language, the characters, the location, and the history of politics and class relationships.  The language spoken by every single character, no matter how peripheral or how central, is sharp as a box cutter, and has the rhythm appropriate to how actual people speak.  Of course, it is enhanced by a supremely gifted writer, presented by highly trainded and skilled actors, so though the words are emoted as in natural mode, the delivery is not, by and large, that of everyday communication -- but you do wish it was! It is cerebral, but it is firmly rooted in a place, because the families of all the characters of whatever class are firmly rooted there -- and this county in such easy commuting distance from London, is beautiful.  The characters are not conventionally likeable, but they are all in the round, and always fascinating, to listen to, and to look at.  There is no leavening of one or two likeables among them, as we have in, say, the Barchester Chronicles, with Donald Pleasence's role as Mr. Harding the godly and sweet clergyman.  The most ruthless among Paradise Postponed -- the working class social climbing entrepreneur and politician, Lesley Titmuss -- lacks the satirical comic turns of Alan Rickman's Obadiah Slope, that allow the viewer's comfortable sense of superiority, and that all shall be well in the world.

However, you cannot turn your eyes from Titmuss.  In some ways he will remind a constant reader of Kenneth Widmerpool, from Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, as the series will remind one to a lesser degree of that 12 volume fiction series tracing England from WWI through the end of the 1960's. But Titmuss doesn't provoke even the peripetetic twinges of sympathy that Widmerpool does. Titmuss's speech to the members of his local Conservative party's candidate selection committee is brilliant.  For that alone, if you are a U.S. leftist or liberal or reformist, you should see this series and re-play that speech a hundred times.  It explains, briefly and entirely to the point, the rise and triumph of our regressive, mean, and successful politics of the far right.  It is the distillation of the failure of the left to understand the very people they think they are representing.

There is a sequel to Paradise Postponed, Titmuss Regained, broadcast in the early 90's, also written by Mortimer.  This single disk sequel is built around the out-of-control land development and despoilation that only -- so far -- the crash of 2008 has slowed to  degree.  Titmuss is now Conservative secretary of state for Housing, Ecology, and Planning.  Will it be as good as Paradise Postponed?  The rumor is that the title could just as well be Titmuss Redeemed.

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