Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Moulakis, Athanasios. "Twelve Ways to Know the Past." WILSON QUARTERLY (2008).

The universities’ culture wars have abated. Most people have grown tired of the debates between the worth of “dead white males” on the one hand, and the sins of politically correct ideologues on the other. Neither side can be said to have won. An uneasy truce reigns, broken by an occasional ­rear-­guard action. But the underlying issues have not gone away. How we interpret the past affects the norms by which we ­live. . . . But a cultural legacy is never simply given. As Goethe observed, one must acquire it in order to possess it. To come alive, a cultural heritage needs to be read, deciphered, interpreted, and felt. It is like a landscape: What aesthetic, cultural, and social messages it conveys depend on how you look at it. The same valley looks different in the eyes of a painter, a rancher, or a military planner. Depending on who I am, I can see that valley as picturesque, as good for grazing cattle, or as suitable for deploying light cavalry. And landscapes are sometimes deliberately arranged to suit the expectations or taste of the viewer. The gondolier sings Neapolitan songs, to the delight of foreign honeymooners and the horror of true Venetians. The Houses of Parliament rebuilt after the Blitz are “Gothic,” faithfully reproducing the Victorian fake. Revivals and renaissances are other ways of rearranging the past. As Ernest Renan wrote in his 1882 essay “What Is a Nation?” a nation coheres as much around what it forgets as what it remembers. There are many ways of apprehending (and eliding) the past, but 12 stand out as most ­common. . . . Find the answer here: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=wq.essay&essay_id=358748.

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