". . . 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 28, 2017

Wednesdays Are About Reading: The Middle Ages, U.S. Civil War, Novels

     . . . . So non-inclined to deal with social media, blogs, any of it these days.  I am online a great deal, digging through newspapers published in the Red River Valley in 1880 - 1911, among other online activities. I keep up with a variety of news (current affairs / politics) sites.  I write a lot, including in my journal, in my Word program.  But I've had no energy to write online, for some reason.

There's a great deal going on in the offline life, all kinds of things, and some of it, believe it or not, is actually positive for us personally, in many ways, including paying work, despite the political billionaires' and religious whackos' derangement of objective, ideology, utterance, attitude and action having taken over seemingly the whole world, except -- maybe -- for France?

Therefore, perhaps it is particularly rude of us to keep laughing at the French as we make our way through Capetian France 987 - 1328?  This is the read-aloud-before-bed book that succeeded Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (el V's favorite century!) which was all about the plundering, corsairing, privateering and pirating of Spain's ports, ships and fleets by all of Europe's powers in mostly the 16th century, through about 1628.

Both of these books have been terrific reads, before bed, hough in a different ways. It was particularly pleasant to have them when I went down with a very nasty virus two weeks ago, and couldn't read for myself.  One of the symptoms was eyes that watered constantly, making vision iffy at best -- not to mention the lack of concentration. What I did mostly during that period was lie in the dark, listening to book streamed from Overlook.

     . . . . As far as the Capetians are concerned -- what is up with us and the French and laughter? As soon as el V and I began reading my history of the Capets with each other, as opposed to me reading the book by myself, we got the giggles.  Evidently even when they weren't French, but Goths (Merovingians) and Franks (Carolingians), which is when this laughter began earlier in the year, they were sufficiently French to be amusing and good company?

The Capetian monarchy is not only post-Carolingia, but post Vikings and the Dark Ages. We begin to see what political historians have called feudalism as an administrative organizational structure becoming the predominate system, along with the proliferation of castle-building -- which reached its peak in France in the 11th century.

I'm getting a sense that with the Norse now integrated into Francia at every level of society (though probably not in the peasantry?), so much of what they severely disrupted in the kingdoms after Charlemagne was no longer around to hold things together, in many ways all systems from trade and taxes to governance and land holdings had greatly stabilized.  In other words we have now entered what historians used to regard as the Middle Ages and have emerged out of what historians used to call the Dark Ages.

By the way, the Norman kingdoms were very well organized and administered, the best of them all. As far as we've gotten, the Normans are about poised to take over kingdoms in Sicily and southern Italy -- not to mention England.

This is so interesting! But, I wonder, if anywhere else in this vast, densely populated city, in June, 2017, anyone else is considering these matters? I have the feeling that only here, in this apartment, in this building, is this happening. One indication is that these books from the graduate school library haven't been taken out in years and years. And their publication all date from the 1970's, at the latest.

      . . . . What have I listened to?  The most entertaining was James Buchanan: The Worst President Ever (2016) by sports journalist >!< Robert Strauss. It's a fairly light-hearted treatment of the guy who did nothing to keep the Union together (though he did a lot to allow it to fall apart, They Say).  There are lengthy digressions into the author's own childhood and the father with whom as a boy he shared an obsession for US presidential trivia.  There are further lengthy digressions into playing basketball at his gym and elsewhere in Philadelphia, where he was born and continues to live, and more yet about his wife and daughter.  His historical method, as far as it goes, is to compare and contrast Buchanan's biography and presidency with that of the other 44 (as of his writing) presidents, to make the case that Buchanan was The Worst Ever.  However, Buchanan's got a real run for his title going these days.  One wonders if the author would have been so off-handed about the mess JB helped make if he were putting the book together today.  OTOH, in the stuperous state of my whole sick system, that was about as much cogitation as I could manage.

I listened to two novels via Overlook. The first was Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek (1941).  She was so good at what she did.  And one must get to the very end to see just how good at it she was.  Through much of the book one of the lesser character's wife is pregnant.  He's deeply concerned about his wife and the coming delivery, hoping for the best, fearing for the worst, which was the outcome far too often in the 17th century of King Charles II, which is the time the book takes place.  That this becomes a major plot  point won't even be clear until the very end!  I was so impressed.

The second novel was Ann Cleeves's second title in her Shetland Islands series, White Nights.  I've read all the others but it took this long for the replacements to show up at the NYPL after the others were worn out.  In my opinion this one is far superior to the others.

I am also listening to three other fascinating, books, The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad (2013) by Lesley Hazleton (NPR review hereThe Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee: The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged (2015) by William Davis

A UK Guardian review of the book here.
 -- and the brilliant The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land (2010) by Thomas Asbridge.  This latter is big -- 784 pages -- because he tells the politics of the crusades from both Christian and Islam's contexts of the times.  I've been listening to it for weeks, as one can only check out an audio stream book for a maximum of 3 weeks, and I usually only listen to them while working out. It's a popular title and then I have to wait until whoever else had it on hold expires it to get it back again.  (The Overlook system that has highjacked all the public library systems is truly awful and stupid in every way.)  I've now reached the fifth crusade.

It's really been books this month, far more than television / movies, due to my eyes being so bad from being sick.

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