Revisionist history

The next exhibition I am working on is called "The Forgotten Nordics: Ethnic diversity and National narratives". Each of the six sections is going to focus on a different moment in history, when overt attempts were made to exclude people living in the Nordic region from the dominate identity.

Though there is a certain radical element to such an exhibit--it reads as if we are judging people in the past that they were wrong to do what they did--what interests me is the remarkable efficacy of revisionist history. When the decision is made, for whatever reason, that one identity is the dominate identity, all the other ones fade instantly out of relevance, completely. And even if just a few moments ago, historically speaking, a different identity was considered paramount, that can all change.

The victors write the history books is an overwrought platitude, and I think that phrase fails to convey the absolutely miraculous way in which a narrative, reconceived, reorders everything that came before it. Historians try to stop this erasure, I guess out of some notion of upholding the truth, but there is no truth. There is just a choice. Sometimes the dominant identity creates boundaries that exclude vast groups of people, sometimes it includes some but not others, and then boom, it can all get radically reversed. Now, in Scandinavia, every single family wants to talk only about the resistance fighters in their family, as if there were no Nazi sympathizers anywhere in Scandinavia.

I like the freedom that affords, the freedom to make out of the past what we will. And to forget about, ignore, and otherwise make irrelevant, whatever other facts do not fit into the reformulated narrative.

It is like that moment when you realize the guy you were obsessing about all those years really wasn't the right guy for you afterall. Abracadabra, freedom.

Comments

Jono said…
While it's nice to make of the past that which fits your view, it may not be the truth. While the truth isn't always convenient it still is. Although it will certainly be skewed.
I have had that same obsession. It is usually something like a viewpoint in extreme opposition to my own that bursts the bubble. It often turns out she is a racist, right wing extremist, is agoraphobic, a religious fanatic, or something totally different from my worldview (which is, of course, the only way to look a things).
Lissy said…
A special feature of the field of history is that although there might be wrong ideas and understandings of the past (anachronisms regarding technology that had not yet been invented, for instance), there are not historical truths to any degree approximating scientific facts. The past is gone, and when it existed it was such a swirling matrix as to make it incomprehensible to the person in it. Sure, we can verify something happened or didn't happen, but the nature of human communication is that there are always multiple meanings operating simultaneously, each individual player having more than one motivation for every single action. So to say why something happened is always a matter of choice, determined by which actor, and which motivation of that actor, the historian chooses to use in constructing a narrative. Hi-story is always a story, not a objective, verifiable fact. But there is truth in every story.
Lissy said…
A special feature of the field of history is that although there might be wrong ideas and understandings of the past (anachronisms regarding technology that had not yet been invented, for instance), there are not historical truths to any degree approximating scientific facts. The past is gone, and when it existed it was such a swirling matrix as to make it incomprehensible to the person in it. Sure, we can verify something happened or didn't happen, but the nature of human communication is that there are always multiple meanings operating simultaneously, each individual player having more than one motivation for every single action. So to say why something happened is always a matter of choice, determined by which actor, and which motivation of that actor, the historian chooses to use in constructing a narrative. Hi-story is always a story, not a objective, verifiable fact. But there is truth in every story.
Lissy said…
I look back and I can't even remember what motivated me, exactly, to send someone a Facebook request, probably because it was more than one thing. But also because we use what happens afterwards to explain our original motivation.
Lissy said…
I look back and I can't even remember what motivated me, exactly, to send someone a Facebook request, probably because it was more than one thing. But also because we use what happens afterwards to explain our original motivation.
Jono said…
I understand your point. I like being challenged a bit and taught different (and often improved) viewpoints. Thanks for the education. History really is a story, isn't it?

I once had an interesting workplace, but as I got to know the people in it there were enough nasty ones to bring back issues I thought I had long gotten past. I left before there was any damage to my psyche. I was able to explain my departure in the aftermath, but it was very different than my original motivation. At least as I remembered it.

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