There is no horror from the past we cannot aggrandize. Our culture’s blindness is responsible for much of the terror in our lives. I’m not here to insist that Americans are the only blind people in the world; that is clearly false. However, knowing that blindness is a pan human condition regardless of the sightedness or lack thereof in any person of any people does not lessen the effects of said blindness. Is there anything knew anywhere concerning human frailty, human foibles? Have we grown less fallible, less likely to break under extreme pressure? Has there ever been at any time in any past, whatever history we examine–really historiography–a people of greater error in the matters of their humanity? Again, questions beget questions, answers left wanting in spite of how many responses are made . . .
I’m of the mind that history happens irrespective of who writes the historiography. One is not the other. There is history that is unwritten, unrecorded, unremembered, untold . . . I wish we did read enough to know who George Santayana was, let alone what he said about history and historical consciousness, that those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it, but then reliving our past horrors seems one of the longest and strongest of all past times. We do ignore more than we should. We have become overbearingly tempo-centric, narrowly prescribing a dogma of a unified now and new as the only means by which we verify or validate. Multicultural though should extend to the culture of time as it is oriented historically. What means history thus historiography, historicism in a culture as contempocentric as ours. Multicultural would thus be something like Mexico now, Mexico a generation ago, Mexico a century ago, two centuries ago, a millennia ago . . .
History is a river? History is an ocean with tides and currents? History is a tunnel we pass through; history is a moving arrow flying by. These metaphors helpful or not, I am not going to entertain a definition of history and how it differs from historiography and historicism. History for all people infers recorded time. I posit this simplistic reference with historiography. Again, history is what happens irrespective of who writes history or if the history ever gets written or recorded in some other fashion. So, history may or may not be historiographic, but historiography is linked with history.
With respect for time and its passage in what we call history, let me say that there has never been any generation in our history–America’s history–more tempo-centric than this one. But again, even if there were other ages more tempo-centric than ours, it would not lessen how much so we are currently. The beam in my own eye does not remove the mote in my neighbors eye, or vice-versa. A corrective must be applied. We are in need of a revised vision of ourselves, our society and its position in the world, in history, in the continuum we imagine time to be.
Ours has become virtually the only time, but every age has some sense that its age is the best or the worst of all ages that have ever been. A sense of the past, a sense of proportion about the past has gone the way of believing that we can uncover the truth about things, or that there is a Truth, both transcendent and absolute. We no longer believe in the possibility of objectivity, therefore we only assert one subjectivity after another and another and so on in a petty pace of the solipsist spinning his wheels.
The thing is that we also imagine we are the zenith of forever; that all future ages are dependent on us, and this has arisen simultaneously with a severing from all past contingencies or continuums. We are iconoclastic as we have never been before, while we each discover our own personal Sinai to ascend and descend, complete with each one of us carrying his own tablets, his own commandments.
A new intellectual hegemony has been won by those who have revised the past in order to justify their present, much the way Czar Ivan had chroniclers revise Russian history to justify the Romanov dynasty. This was not new then; it is not new now. Ignorance and degraded literacy has gone a long way to bolstering this tendency.
Ignorance is literally to ignore, and no one ignores the past more than we do. There has been no generation in any age more in love with the moment now than ours. Even Whitman seemingly gives credence to this excessive American desire to own the present. Doesn’t he declare that there is no more time than now in Song of Myself. I don’t mean to belittle Whitman; Walt is not reinforcing tempo-centrism any more than Sylvia Plath was romanticizing suicide, but it is an interesting product of our cultural vision.
Ours has become the great displacement of the past, and in as much as we are the guardians of the future, as far as we have made the future now. This is interesting from a culture that has abandoned the metaphysics of Truth because it finds the idea of transcendence absurd. The future has become current for us, and believing, for better or for ill, that our choices irrevocably affect all time until the end of time has led us to a couple of false notions. This belief has brought about for us either castrating fear or a hubris as grandiose as any in antiquity that brought Divine Retribution at the hands of Nemesis.