Our Continuing Narrative of a Past that Never Existed

20 11 2006

I’ll be on the road much of today.  The list in my little notebook of post topics is getting longer and longer (I’ve got at least a month’s worth in there now), and I hope to weigh in on the plagiarism issue this evening.  Right now, I’d like to share a ellroy.jpgquote from the preface to James Ellroy’s American Tabloid.  I don’t read much fiction, but when I have over the last couple of years it’s been Ellroy more often than not.  He’s the author of L. A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, which were turned into motion pictures of which you may have heard.  Ellroy’s novels are like train wrecks – you don’t want to look, but you can’t help yourself.  Really good stuff about really bad people.  Anyway, this little quote sums up how I feel (at times) when reading about the American Civil War or watching films like Gods and Generals:

Mass market nostalgia gets you hopped up for a past that never existed.  Hagiography sanctifies shuck-and-jive politicians and reinvents their expedient gestures as moments of great moral weight.  Our continuing narrative line is blurred past truth and hindsight.  Only a reckless verisimilitude can set that line straight.

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2 responses

20 11 2006
Dave Powell

Dude, You’re like, so deep…

A nice passage, actually. But I might go deeper, and suggest that EVERYONE reinvents the past. History, to a certain extent, is about reinventing the past – or at least re-interpreting it.

One of the things that drives me crazy is the suggestion that “winners write the history.” That little homily is so wrong, in so many different circumstances, that it drives me nuts every time I hear it. While this might apply in to the era for which it was coined – the classical – it is massively wide of the mark in the modern era. In fact, more often than not, the loser writes the history, because he has the bigger axe to grind. The winner, when he realizes what is going on, usually plays catch-up and ends up falling short.

But that is why history is fun…

Dave Powell

21 11 2006
Harry Smeltzer

Dave,
I think I have finally made it to the point where I don’t roll my eyes whenever I hear that “the victors write the history” drivel when applied to the ACW. At least, I hope I don’t roll my eyes anymore.

Come to think of it, considering how Resonstruction played out maybe the victors DID write the history of the Civil War.

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