Apr 14, 2011

In the morning the shells will wash up on the shore

I read somewhere once that "hippie fashion" was kids making a pastiche out of the clothing bins of history.

Which is true of history, too. A lot of times.

It's the past presented as now. Now dressed up in vintage uniforms for reenactment of battles where we all know who won and how the cannons boomed, but will do again anyway, and try to understand again and anew, understanding ourselves of course, only in cipher.

It's been interesting, following the conversation about the Civil War now, 150 years after it begun, to see how it's still with us, in bits and pieces, threads and themes.

There's been a lot of talk about how bad the centennial celebration was. Frivolous pageantry. Racists throwing balls, basically. Celebrating succession without actually talking about what it was. History appropriated for a party, without any serious consideration of themselves, their present or our past.

Appropriation is part of interpretation, though it's sometimes hard, and this is the trick of it, to see how the appropriation is playing out at the moment the appropriation is going on.

Relativizing that past celebration adds an undercurrent or a undercutting anxiety too about the relativity of our present. How are we misconstruing the Civil War now? How are we misreading it through our own moral failings?

Maybe we'll know in another 50 years.

Part of what's interesting about the study of 1861-65 is the ways in which it acts as a prism for the time of the study. How much it says about each of them. What we say about then says more than a bit about now, and that's interesting to look at.

Not that all appropriations are mis-appropriations, or are bad. That's part of what we do. Pastiche it.

I can't help but feel too and marvel at the feeling I'm connected to that time. I weirdly seem to have an affinity with the era, a connection and sense of I-could-have-been-then and I've-know-those-people-and-they're-my-people-too in a way I never did or have been able to with some other periods. World War II. Or the 1910s. I don't know why.

It just always seems like it's about us.