". . . 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, May 20, 2020

Part 1: John Quincy Adams on "the melancholy madness of Poetry without the inspiration"

     . . . . Copied from the Library of America 2 volume edition of the Diaries of John Quincy Adams, brilliantly edited by historian, David Waldstreicher.

The following entries feelingly describe his sorrow at being a failure as a poet while possessing all the passion to express himself as great poets do. He recognizes that as a writer of the imagination he fully lacks the necessary imaginative verbal power to transport his castles in the air onto paper. All writers feel this way, and not only writers of the imagination. His description (below) of what it is like to be in full creative throe and thrall to a project is recognizable and shared by all writers, whether they are good or poor writers. 

However, unlike most of us, JQA may have been an imaginative failure, but a as recorder of history, he is pure gold. He also manages right at the start of this meditation on his attempt to write an epic Tale of Dermont (a description of which arrives in the next entry) to get in a sly dig at Thomas Jefferson, which is right where I began to laugh.  I continued to laugh throughout these entries, but it is critical to understand that I was laughing with JQ, and with great sympathy, not at him. No one understood his own shortcomings as well as JQ, or understood there was nothing he could -- or in some cases, would do -- to remedy them. He was the son of John and Abigail Adams, and these arch Puritans inhabited him as fully as he inhabited himself.

March 8, 1831; Washington D.C.

Sun rose 6:16. Fahrenheit 30.  It is a doctrine of the medical faculty that bodily exercise to be salutary, should be taken with a vacant mind, and such is the precept of Mr. Jefferson.  By the instruction Buchan I have during the greater part of my life, followed this rule, and it has saved me from the composition of mechans vers douze fois, douze cens and ten times more -- At certain Seasons however the propensity becomes too strong for me. I walk and muse, and pour forth premeditated verse, which it takes me six or nine months to lay by, and then resume to find it good for nothing -- It never appears so to me when I compose it -- In a few instances I have suffered the publication of my effusions, and I am accredited, as one of the smallest Poets of Country -- Very short fugitive pieces and translations are the only rhymes I have ever committed to the press.  One short poem; the lines to Mrs. Hellen on the death of her two children -- and one translation, the 13th Satire of Juvenal have been favorably noticed. One Satirical song, overlooked when first published was dragged into light twenty years afterwards, for political effect against me because it laughed at the party lama Jefferson.  All the rest of of my published poetry has passed from the press into the waters of Lethé -- One of these rhyming fits is now upon me -- brought on by the inflammation of my eye, which debarred me from reading and writing, and threw me back upon my own scanty resources -- I write every morning one Stanza of paraphrase from the Bible; and in my morning walk from two to three Stanzas of a Tale which I have undertaken, far beyond my depth, and which I shall obviously never get through -- But so totally does it absorb my attention while engaged upon it, that in my morning walk round the capitol square, I go out and return almost without consciousness of the passage of Time -- the melancholy madness of Poetry without the inspiration -- I cooked up this morning one Stanza before rising from bed -- Then after three Chapters of Isaiah -- one Stanza, of paraphrase from the 3rd Chapter of Proverbs -- Then in my walk three Stanzas more of the Tale and this Evening after dinner, severely threatened with an inflammation of my left eye, and therefore, daring neither to read nor write, took up an Ode of Horace, exquisitely beautiful, from which more than twenty-five years ago I had wrung three Stanzas, and then given up the rest in despair -- They were three of the best Stanzas I ever wrote -- to which I now added two of the worst -- The thoughts of Horace, are as unmalleable as Platina. [Do not know if Platina here refers to the 15th C poet, or to the metal.  I am guessing the poet, but both are equally likely to inhabit the vast, multi-chambered mind of JQA!]

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