what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Retribution and Reconciliation.....an ongoing process

What do we – what can we – really know about one another? We all exist in worlds defined by strongly-protected boundaries of nation, gender, age, class, education and a variety of more deliberative affiliations (of friendships, clubs, channels of viewing and readership etc) which help create and sustain our particular “world view” – be that optimistic or pessimistic, authoritarian or libertarian., about ourselves or about others
The world is so complex that we seem to need “simplifying devices” which help cocoon us from uncomfortable realities. Age and experience should, however, let us see these devices as crutches – which can and should be thrown away.
I often think that the greatest service a writer can do is to challenge these preconceptions we have of other systems and countries and their ways of thinking and behaving.
I have blogged before about the rarity of authors who offer real insight into the culture and societies of individual European countries – such as Theodor Zeldin for France; Simon Winder and (more at the ideas level) Peter Watson for Germany.
I am currently reading a 1996 book - Dinner with Persephone - by a young American woman poet with an undefined background in Greek (there is a nice classification for you) who immersed herself in Greece for a year and has produced a scintillating "historologue" - my word for an account of conversations, myths and impresssions based on an impressive grasp of words and meanings. Having been reading recently (as a Scot!) about historical Bulgarian attitudes to the Greeks, I find this account from the other side doubly satisfying - particularly on the vexed issue of Macedonia.
The Balkans have been a killing field over the past century and more (used arguably in the Balkan Wars of a hundred years ago as a surrogate field for the jostling which was going on amongst developed economies of north- west Europe) and the imagined communities of this area still need therapy.......

Conventional academic histories focus too much on political events – but social histories of the British sort I referred to recently can be too detailed and miss the essence. Historian Jeremy Treglow has just published Franco’s Crypt – Spanish culture and memory since 1936 which seems to offer a wonderful prism with which to view events which are still (just) within living memory - vengeance and retribution.
In a 2007 article in the Dublin Review of Books, the author puts it very succinctly
Given the sheer volume, then, as well as the quality of narratives – historical, fictional, cinematic – examining Francoism which appeared either during the caudillo’s lifetime or in the decade following his death, why should ‘historical memory’ be an issue in Spain, all these decades on?
It’s a global phenomenon, of course: one which the American social scientist John Torpey argues is a substitute for the utopian politics in which we have lost faith. No longer able to dream of a better future, we put such moral energy as we have into trying to repair the past. The historian Roy Foster has written with valuable firmness about the inadequacy, as well as the selectiveness, of reparations politics in the case of Ireland, situating the topic both in its historiographical context (the influence of Pierre Nora’s workLieux de Mémoire, 1984) and its current cultural one: Christians in Jerusalem in 1999 apologizing for the Crusades, Queen Elizabeth II apologizing to the Maoris, and so on. Like Santos Juliá, Foster sees the impulse as essentially psychological, an attempt to assuage guilt. ‘After the oversimplifications and illogical pieties that surround the business of “memory” these days,’ he writes, ‘it is hard to disagree with a suggestion from the Irish literary critic Edna Longley …: “for politicians, the next step should be to erect a monument to Amnesia and forget where they put it”.’


  1. You know, I have always wanted to do this, but each time I begin I run into the same stumbling blocks. The U.S. is diverse in culture but the same in heart; diverse in language but only from decade to decade--and the beat goes on ...
    We are suffering right now because of a terrible mistake, that being apathy when it comes to politics. We will recover and the wiser will we be--at least for the next decade or so. What then is the solution for us? In returning to the values of our European forefathers and resting there--teaching the young--speaking to them of their roots. Individuals, nations and even friends remain strong through daily, purposeful thought and action.

  2. Sorry, I missed this very thoughtful comment - "purposeful thought and action" is a key personal value....I hope my silence has not put you off from my blog which does try (I hope) to practice such an ethic.....