Thursday 25 September 2008

The Past Is

I called my last post "How will we change the past, if we don't know what it is?". I keep looking at that and trying to understand exactly what I meant by that. Maybe what I meant to say was:

"How can we change the present, if we don't know what the past is?" or

How can we understand what we are dealing with now unless we understand what the past was? or

How will we change the impact of the past, if we don't know what it was? or

How can we stop being destroyed by the past if we don't know what it was?

The blog itself explained what I was trying to say. I am now deconstructing my own title. It is kind of interesting. Probably the most important point is that I referred to the past as existing in the present "... what the past is?" The past is always with us. It is. Our understanding of it may change, but if we don't know at least what happened to us, we can't understand and what we don't know, what we won't face can and probably will kill us.

I am right now teaching courses in history, and "the personal is political". My students were having difficulties with the notion of "truth". A postmodern problem??? If we have had one view of history (or a "master narrative"), and find out that there are missing pieces, or that the writer(s) had biases or were bigots or otherwise less than perfect, then does that make the history a lie? I would just say that it makes the history incomplete - it may make it a bit warped. But what is warped? There are facts - x happened. Why it happened, how it happened, the results of fact x are all open to interpretation and understanding. New facts, new information, new ways of looking at the world - all these things can change our understanding and interpretation of the past. The more we learn, the more angles that we use to understand, the better off we will be in the end. The past is; it cannot be changed - what we do with it is what changes.

Do past ways of understanding constitute lies?

It is the interplay between the personal and the "historical" that is starting to interest me. Some of this is not really new. I keep thinking about the old adage - "Those who don't know the past are condemned to repeat it". Can we find ourselves in "microhistories", anymore than we find ourselves in the "macrohistories" or "master narratives"?

There is probably a point to this rambling but I want to think about it some more. This doesn't quite fit everything that has gone before it, but I'm sure that it will connect up at some point!

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