Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open thread: "Oblivion"

Well: What with packing and all that that entails, I didn't get a chance to get back to the Columbus Day post. So, while I'm away from "here," I'd like to invite visitors to comment on the following:

In an essay titled "A New World Poetics of Oblivion" (the introductory essay in Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies), George B. Handley argues that the literature of this hemisphere should at some level not merely be cognizant of history and be as faithful to that history as possible, it should also acknowledge that the complete history of this hemisphere is ultimately lost and irrecoverable--consigned to "oblivion." The sort of historical amnesia practiced in the United States re Native Americans and slavery or, in Latin America, various celebrations of mestizaje as a sort of coming to terms with and healing of the deep and bloody wounds of the Encounter and Conquest are, to Handley's mind, are unfaithful witnesses to the violence of that past--which violence nevertheless did indeed result in the emergence of these nations and culture(s).

Here's the question I've been mulling over: In a way, the Western Hemisphere has no real choice but to confront its history, seeing as its figurative birthdate is fixed in history as no other culture's birthdate is. So, Handley's point is well taken. But that's precisely the issue, it seems to me: Older cultures usually have the luxury of developing myths and legends unencumbered by the inconveniences of The Facts. Is this a good or a bad thing, to be unencumbered by historical memory? Is being unencumbered in that way actually a prerequisite for a culture? Or is it simply too early to be asking such questions of a culture that's only 500 years old?

I look forward to reading your responses when I get back. See you next week.


Pam said...

I think we're too young.

John B. said...

I think that's right, Pam--and thanks for commenting, by the way.

I have some ruminating coming along about the potential risks of being too aware of history--equally as risky, it seems, as being not aware enough of it.