Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rewriting History

I've always been fascinated with the flexibility of history. You'd think things that have happened in the past, concrete events that can be factually referenced, would stay consistent, cemented in place and time. And yet...we all learn in our high school history classes that history is written by the victor. That what was considered acts of national loyalty can become acts of twisted depravity when the war is over and the triumphant nations write the next history books. Many novels have come from this, from the fanciful "what if" wonderings of what the world might be like if Christianity had not become the dominant religion, if Napoleon had breached Great Britain's defenses, if Hitler had succeeded in his mission. Big picture history what ifs at their finest.

And while those what-if wonderings can be fun for a while, I'm far more interested in the intimate and unique ways we all rewrite our own history. I'm not talking about willful rearrangement of events into a false memory. Rather, I mean the way that random events in the past can take on great significance when something happens in the present. For instance, had I chosen a profession having to do with fast cars, my childhood obsession with Hot Wheels would suddenly seem more important, like a precursor to my future career rather than just a fun childhood pastime. The time I worked with Cody has greater significance to me than the time I worked with any other person because Cody and I (much later) started dating.

In so many little ways, I've rewritten my history, placing greater importance on one event than another as the present/future dictates. Yet, with all my ruminations on the mercurial nature of the past, I've never considered history the way William Gibson describes it through the main character of Pattern Recognition:

"'The future is there...looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. And from where they are, the past behind us will look nothing at all like the past we imagine behind us now.... I only know that the one constant in history is change: The past changes. Our version of the past will interest the future to about the extent we're interested in whatever past the Victorians believed in. It simply won't seem very relevant.'"

I've never considered the past as seen by the people in history. What a mind-boggling concept, and yet such a fascinating one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was deep.
Way deep...
Gives me something to ponder...