Home > Community, Learning, Society > Piled High: Our Subjective Historical Record

Piled High: Our Subjective Historical Record

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

History can be a tricky thing. For some, the records of the past reveal details of the present. Look carefully and one will see a cause and effect relationship with the past and present. Can we explain the way things are by tracking down the way things were? In “Burnt Norton”, T.S. Eliot seems to waver near this conclusion, nudging us with a suggestion that “time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future.”

Let’s forget this line drawing though and focus specifically on what history is. History is our knowledge of the past, it is the collected ball of knowledge passed down from generation to generation. At its core, history is memory delivered. Human beings have a tendency to seek out greater meanings and history is an easy area of interpretation. Suddenly the moments that make up our history become fodder for this musing. Birthed from these considerations we have myth and fable and the a selective interpretation that smears a subjective layer to history that ultimately distorts the objective core of history and influences how each generation learns and considers the events of the past. In short, human beings do not have an objective history- everything we know has been distorted by the creative minds that have heard, considered and re-told the vibrant record of our past.

The narrative dynamic of our history is where these adjustments take place. Minor details like dates or number-related data (deaths, costs, etc…) often remain preserved with an amount of accuracy. It is in the stories of our history that the adjustments are made: subjectivity is infused in the transactions between listener and speaker.

What are the consequences of these transactions? If we accept the claim that objective history is an oxymoron we must distance ourselves from the influence of historical record. We must adopt a level of skeptical distance and caution ourselves when encountering any and all historical information. As a result we must discard our history and slide even further into the bubble of individuality. Because history is our connection to our past, a disconnection from history is a profound refusal of the culture we exist inside. Deny history and greet alienation.

One has a choice when considering history. One cannot accept a claim that all history is objective. Even a single subjective detail inserted into the historical record forever alters the data. Accept the subjectivity and make the choice: one can either deny the subjectivity or invest in a notion that such subjectivity is minor and that critical gems of objectivity remain preserved in the record. Or, turn away from history and consider the individual a bubble in time whose relation to the past has only established the basic details of life (location, family, culture, etc…). Beyond these details the narrative of the past is a tainted cluster of images. Such a state accepts alienation as the only state of life. Choose either delusion and potential happiness or choose recognition of delusion and with it the level of alienated individuality.


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