". . . 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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jane Smiley: Falling In Love Again With England

In this weekend's New York Times's Travel section, Jane Smiley, a novelist whom I've always enjoyed and respected, writes how a guest gig to England's northeast revived her love of England. In her essay," Lost in Time In England's Northeast," she provides an admirable gloss of the region's historical significance as well as its charms and beauties.

The Holy Isle of Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne isn't always accessible
As I'm an enthusiastic audience for the History Channel's Vikings, this part was of particular interest, since Lindisfarne features prominently in the series:
Durham is not much of an international tourism destination, perhaps because Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens and J. K. Rowling are all from elsewhere (though Durham Cathedral did stand in for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter movies). Even those paradigmatic northerners, the Bront√ęs, grew up 90 miles to the southwest of Durham. What might get you off the East Coast train before Edinburgh is the lost-in-time peacefulness of the broad landscape and the picturesque homeliness of Durham itself, which was founded in 995 by monks who were carrying the remains of St. Cuthbert, one of England’s first native-born saints, from Lindisfarne to this peninsula safe within the embrace of the looping Wear River. The monks had been carrying the remains off and on for 120 years, doing their best to avoid Viking attacks. Legend has it that when the bier became impossible to lift, the monks happened upon a woman looking for her dun cow, who led them, now miraculously able to lift the bier, to the current site.
Then Smiley gets even better:
On the morning I visited, the Chapel of the Nine Altars, where St. Cuthbert’s remains are buried at the east end of the nave, was filled with sunshine. In a quieter spot at the west end, the Galilee Chapel, was the unexpected (to me) tomb of Bede (672-735), the Anglo-Saxon historian who wrote “An Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” as well as numerous commentaries on the Bible, several saints’ lives and three scientific treatises. My scalp actually tingled as I stood before Bede’s 1,200-year-old remains — most of his contemporary authors, of “Beowulf,” of “The Seafarer,” of “The Dream of the Rood,” are unknown. I felt some Anglophilia coming on. My deep love for English literature has never wavered, and here was its very root.
She could well be describing my own experience -- that is, if I'm ever to be so fortunate as to get to this part of the world.

Spiral horned sheep - Durham region

Sheep of the North
Moreover, this is in the country of Nicola Griffith's Hild, the most immersive fiction experience I've had in years:
The north of England was the site of sustained religious conflict in the seventh and eighth centuries — paganism of a basically Scandinavian model was flourishing; the pope wanted to claim the area, but so did Celtic Christians, who adhered to a different calendar. St. Aidan did convert the population and several important kings, but is said to have chosen Lindisfarne because he did not want his local king to be able to tell him what to do. No ruins of the original priory remain, but as I gazed upon the beautiful red sandstone ruin of a Benedictine priory built around the same time as Durham Cathedral, now roofless, weathered, I felt the ethereal, timeless quiet that St. Aidan must have cherished.
Bede spent his life at St. Paul’s monastery at Jarrow (about 18 miles northeast of Durham). The monastery was built about a generation after Lindisfarne by Benedict, the son of a local noble family who went to Rome and subsequently adhered to the pope’s version of Catholic theology. The stone walls, an advance upon Lindisfarne’s oak and thatch, were built by masons brought in from the Continent. These have been incorporated into the church that stands on the site, and the rough authenticity of the modern church (in a curve of the Don River before it empties into the Tyne) is beautiful and a bit forbidding.
A few hundred feet north of St. Paul’s, across the green, is Bede’s World, a museum devoted to replicating life in the eighth century.... 
However, lest anyone fear that the charms of the northeast are confined to the past, there is Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North:

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