Thursday August 2nd, 2012

The exercise:

Write about: the historian.

We got some good weeding work done in the garden this morning. Amazing the difference an extra set of hands can make out there.

Our current guest is heading back to Vancouver tomorrow morning, but she will be replaced before nightfall by my sister Sue and her husband Jake. Really looking forward to having them here for the long weekend.

Mine:

He writes down what is said and what is done with no commentary, no opinions, no decorations. Just the facts, which he allows to speak for themselves, in their own voices.

It can be a bit chaotic when they all try to speak at once, though. Often they contradict each other, but that is not his concern. He is certain that eventually, whether it be tomorrow or five hundred years from today, the truth will rise to the top and drown out the rest.

Well, at least from the perspective of whoever happens to be reading it.

There are lessons to be learned in all he commits to record, but he has no interest in spelling them out. He does not care for hand-holding and has no time or patience for those who need it. Let them figure it out for themselves or suffer the consequences.

And oh, how common it is, that suffering.

One day he will pass from this mortal plane and another will take hold of his pen and carry the burden of history for a while. He does not waste time or energy thinking about this.

He simply continues to write all that he hears and all that he sees.

3 Comments:

Iron Bess said...

Sorry for my absence Marc but having some family issues here, trying to get my mom into palliative care after it turns out that she isn't a viable candidate for open heart surgery. When less stressed and feeling more creative I will return.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

More anecdotal than strictly creative, but I wanted to share and it's actually pertinent (-gasp!-).

I took a class last spring on truth and the presentation thereof, and among the things we read and discussed was some of the work of the historian Simon Schama. We read Dead Certainties, which told of two general events: the death of a British general in the Seven Years' War, and the Parkman-Webster murder case at Harvard Medical College. We watched a documentary hosted by Schama on the Parkman-Webster case, but read and looked at the story of the death of General James Wolfe.

The account opens up with a diary entry from a man in Wolfe's army, describing a grueling ascent before what would be Wolfe's last battle. After this, Schama gives the reader a history of Wolfe's life. Then there's a section describing the history of a painting by the American painter Benjamin West called "The Death of General Wolfe." This rendition of the General's death is very epic, dramatic, and probably more of a to-do than his actual death. Schama then closes with the rest of the soldier's diary entry, wherein he discovers the expiring Wolfe under a bush (I can't remember if the doctor was there or not), and the General dies very humbly.

Here's the thing, though: that diary entry was not written by an eighteenth century soldier. It was written by Schama, just like the rest of the section. It was, however, undoubtedly very well researched; you would expect nothing less of a professor of history at Harvard and Columbia. Unlike James Frey's memoir-but-not-really-a-memoir A Million Little Pieces, Schama never at any point tried to pass speculation off as fact. Not only did he disclose what bits were fabricated at the end of the book for speculative purposes, it was in the book's title: Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations). But in all likelihood, our class decided, it was probably more historically accurate than West's painting.

But it's still made up.

It might be a historian's work, but it's still made up.

(the Wikipedia article on Schama has a brief bit on Dead Certainties which is pretty good, and the book itself is fascinating.)

Marc said...

Iron Bess - thank you for dropping by to let us know what's going on. I hope everything works out in the best manner possible, and I look forward to you sharing your creative writing with us again as soon as you're feeling up to it.

g2 - hah, I love the combination of certainties and speculation in the title.

And now you've got me wanting to read it for myself!