questions I am thinking about

the thesis is taking over my life; that is the reason for the silence. but I am currently also thinking about the following things:

  1. what is the distinction between public and popular history?
  2. if concepts/ideas have histories, can they have definitions?
  3. no empire is sustainable — true/false?
  4. how does literature inform history, if at all?
  5. can history be written divorced from any reliance (implicit or otherwise) on the idea of progress?
  6. can history be written without being conscious of methodology?

all these will be confronted in due course, perhaps even in essay form. #2 seems to require deeper philosophical contemplation vis-a-vis nature of language.

also thinking about how I have 24 days before the thesis deadline


4 responses to “questions I am thinking about

  • robin

    Initially I read the ’24 days’ as ’24 hours’ and thought “er, wow, that’s going to be a busy 24 hours.” 😉

    More seriously, is there a canonical definition for ’empire’? I love questions/arguments like #3 but never feel like I fully understand them.

  • rAchel

    I suppose ‘Empire’ in the capacity of this question would apply not only to a large group of peoples/land governed by a single political entity, but also the unique nature of the societies, civilizations and cultural suppositions tied into this empire — so e.g. one might say ‘the Roman Empire’ and the ‘Capitalist Empire’ and have in mind the same magnitudes of domination, even though there isn’t really one conventional political entity that governs a ‘capitalist empire’ (however tempted we might be to say America).

    of course there are things to be said about whether there is a natural life cycle of extensive governance — whether the Roman Empire could ever have lasted indefinitely, whether all leadership waxes and wanes, however strong, and ultimately crumbles to neighbouring states or opposing ideologies. But when I think of this question I often also consider what it would be like to -not- be governed automatically by e.g. the notion that free representative democracy is the highest aspiration of governance…there are many suppositions of our times, and it is difficult to understand how they began (or indeed might come to an end) whilst one is living within said times.

    but am still thinking about this, of course..

  • Kyle

    re: #4, while there is nothing literary about collecting historical information, isn’t there something fundamentally literary about attempting to assemble it into a cogent narrative?

    And something more directly related to the question at hand. There is a fairly well-known story about literature becoming history vis-à-vis the book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. There is an extremely famous scene in the novel of a civilian massacre in a Colombian plaza in which “more than two hundred people” died. This massacre actually took place but, according the author himself, his figure was a gross exaggeration (typical of the novel), and the number of casualties was closer to twenty. Nevertheless, at least for a time, the figure that appeared in history books was García Márquez’s, not what “really happened”, and I think it’s easy to see why. Two hundred dead in a government-sponsored massacre in a Latin American country is a far more satisfying figure for raising public awareness and outrage than twenty, even if it is fictional. I think as long as people instinctively desire to construct coherent, satisfying, explanatory narratives (parenthetical book recommendation: Reading for the Plot by Peter Brooks), history will inevitably by informed by that venture.

  • rAchel

    @kyle: fascinating about marquez! when I think about literature informing history I often think about how I’ve learned more about 19th century Russia from dostoyevsky than many russian history texts, i.e. that literature can conjure up history: it shows it without necessarily saying it, and that much can be gained in the gap between these two things. but of course the writing of history involves narrative & thus an element of the literary & even the rhetorical. and necessarily, I think; it is what distinguishes history from, say, ethnography.

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