Friday, July 31, 2009

A fractured reflection: journal-ish-tic.

A class that I was in once got swept up in a discussion about journalism and history. Some of us students were growing frustrated at the idea being discussed, that the way one chooses to write history is itself a confession of one’s theoretical or narrative commitments. One among us asked: but what about the brute fact that on some day in 1492 Columbus put his foot on some sand in a particular place. I mean, that is just a fact, I don’t have to have some ulterior motive to put that down. Yeah, sure, said the professor, there do appear to be facts. It does seem that things happened or didn't happen. But if there are facts, there are an infinite number of them. And you picking one event out of that abyss already shows your preferences for a particular kind of narrative, it indicates the kinds of commitments you have as a writer of history, maybe commitments that you don’t even know you have.

This classroom conversation comes to me now, as this great machine moves at speed over darkness and liquid. My thoughts keep me from joining the great sleep that has come over the cabin. Thoughts of the coming semester and its challenges. Thoughts of my bike, tucked away in the shed, awaiting my return. And Thoughts of history. Or at least the perspectives that give it form.
It is rare that one is greeted on a new scene by a blooming, buzzing confusion. The new world is given order by our desires and concerns. Or our receptivity to desires and concerns. And so it goes with the reports that we send back up to the ether. It’s not a new idea. It’s just sticking with me because I am stuck in a window seat and the last time I was in Uganda I stood alongside people who struck narratives out of facts that I would simply pass over. Or rocked interpretations of those facts that simply would not make a booty shake. (You see how I’m talking about “facts” like they’re unproblematic? Bad philosopher.) This is pretty much how it is everywhere unless one has a deeply homogenous and therefore boring circle of friends. But the thought is sitting heavy for some reason. There is apprehension.

I could use a bike ride right about now. Guess I gotta settle for watching a bike race.

1 comment:

thehistorian said...

" I must also acknowledge that historians see nothing for themselves. They make thier stories (told or implied) that they find in the archives. We thus need to be very attentive to the versions of the world that organize the stories in the past, and to the corresponding versions organizing historians' recycling of those stories in thier own present time." - Rhys Isaac From "Becoming Historians"