it’s been a month now that a historian’s craft has been up and running, and I’ve found that people say such interesting & clever things that I’m going to round up a few of my favourite comments at the end of each month — wonderful stuff that should not be left to stagnate in unopened comment pages. wisdom should be shared & easily accessed later on. here are this month’s favourites, with my especially favourite lines italicized.
but first off I’d like to point out that robin totally set an auspicious precedent, with the awesome walter benjamin quote — “The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed…” — which led to a) this post, and b) the inexplicable result that I now see walter benjamin cited EVERYWHERE. how is that for a first comment, indeed!
kyle on the 21st century man —
if one of the salient characteristics of 20th-century modernism is that modern man lives outside his or her experience of modernity, perhaps one of the salient characteristics of the emerging 21st-century modernism will be the utter divorce between modern man and the systems he creates to define the world. [link]
Gavin Robinson with some provoking & refreshingly realist views, which seduced me for a while to ruminate on the mortality of information, and whether, as he later says, “cumulative knowledge is possible in the humanities”. absorbing thoughts indeed — for the record, I don’t think cumulative knowledge is possible in the humanities (surely it would be a kind of eschatological map in itself — a map that has to map itself, as well as the thing-mapped).
all information is physical – whatever it might represent, it has to be represented in a physical form (that form might be neurons in the brain, transistors and capacitors in a computer, ink on a page, beads on an abacus etc). Changing the information requires energy transfers to change the state of the matter (so information causes entropy and therefore, in a way, by trying to record everything you’re also contributing to its destruction!). You can never have complete information. In order to represent the whole universe exactly as it is (for the purposes of this argument I’m using realist premises which you don’t necessarily have to accept) you would need all of the matter and energy in the universe. [link — and actually the whole thread is v. interesting]
kyle on comfort women and trauma —
I think a question equally as interesting as “How long did it take her to stop crying” is “Once it was over, how long did it take her to start?” [link]
other noted interestingness:
- full-text of neil gaiman’s short story, The Mapmaker, posted by flory (totally worth reading if you have not — “The tale is the map which is the territory. You must remember this.”)
- mike cosgrave demonstrates why I can never be a teacher.
so, thank you for all your wisdom! also, in my first month I have already been variously chastised for being “outdated” and “absurdly reductive”, as well as been proven a wholly inept paleographer. all this only bodes good things for the future, I’m sure.
last but not least. cliopatria’s symposium on sam tanenhaus’ article in the NYT is up. my favourite entry is, as I predicted, the piece by nonpartisan from progressive historians, which makes some wonderful (if patently liberal) points about the paralysis of the public intellectual & the radicalization of popular history:
And so the situation stands today. The thoughtful liberal intellectual stands at an impasse with regard to public commentary. Radical shrillery sells books, as does popular storytelling sans meaningful interpretation….even if you do manage to speak with an intelligent yet meaningful voice, you’ll swiftly find yourself speaking to the walls of an echo chamber — there will be no meaningful response from the other side.
I am always vaguely bemused by the academic wrangling that takes place on the other side of the atlantic pond — the polarization of the profession into those seemingly inevitable political camps, which I feel has done a great deal to turn intellectual dialogue into screaming competitions. I have not had the sense that British academia is even comparably divided, but perhaps I am misinformed on this.