". . . 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

Friday, March 1, 2013

Home for Lunch! Michel-Rolph Trouillot + John Adams + John Randolph

It is a privilege to be in the company of Haitian intellectuals and historians. They are incisive in analysis, precise in expression, and they see the world as it is, and how it was, with even and clear vision. Going back at 4:30 for the keynote and memorial in honor of recently deceased Haitian anthropologist, historian and intellect, Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

Haitian intellectuals and scholars -- and those of the Caribbean in general -- remind me why I like Henry Adams the historian so much.*  He looks at the U.S. through double lenses, that of a member and that of the outsider, when leveling judgment and assessing damage or virtue.

Few historians, if any, particularly in the U.S., have managed to look at our country that way. And he can be so funny!**   As John Randolph-VA remained a significant figure in D.C. politics in the Jacksonian Era, I’m reading through Adam's biography of him right now.

Adams's descriptions of what the milieu was within which Randolph grew up is surprisingly picturesque – something that George Eliot would have written.

That is, George Eliot could have written it, if she'd been capable of seeing or writing of Virginia, past or present at all -- or even the U.S. Nothing of hers about the United States comes to mind. Did she ever comment on the country? She and Harriet Beecher Stowe were good friends, that's about all I can think of as a connection between the U.S. and George Eliot.

The only place Adams fails, as far as I’ve been able to see, is with Ulysses S. Grant and Aaron Burr -- and those were very personal, deliberately falsified portraits and assessments. Yes, Henry, like all the Adamses, could be petty. And then Gore Vidal, who also was unafraid of pettiness, unfortunately followed in those footsteps as he followed in most of Adams’s attitudes.


*  It is a constant interest how Adams, an historian of the class of the most established of the American establishment, an American aristocrat in fact as well as description, became such an outsider from the list of comfortable establishment historians.

** How John Adams achieved his reputation as a dull and dour writer is difficult to figure out. Perhaps his sly and cunning sense of the comic and wit have become obscure to the average reader at this point? Though to anyone who is an historian acquainted with the matters and figures, how he's being funny couldn't escape them, one would think.

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