Sunday, March 15, 2009


"I think one of the biggest mistakes we're making, second only to being people, has to do with what time really is." That's Vonnegut, a quote I first read in his A Man Without a Country, which changed my mind in some ways more than any other writer has (except maybe Bret Easton Ellis, but Vonnegut changed more than my literary mind, more than my style as a writer).

I lead with this quote because it seems to be one of the things chiefly associated with Kurt that he could write lines that just made too much sense and that seemed like some of the simplest structures and bases, and I can't really construct my own idea, now that I've read that line, without just pilfering it. This makes me think of a Chabon story from his first collection, A Model World and Other Stories, which might or might not be the eponymous story, for my memory of title is vague, but which deals with a character who, in finding a book written on the very subject of which he has planned to write a paper, is overcome by an inclination to plagiarism that all but forces him to copy the tome. I must admit, the limited amount of the story that I can recall truly bothers me, but I think my point is evident.

In Vonnegut's posthumous collections, Armageddon in Retrospect, his son, Mark, closes the preface with a caution for the readers that if we should not be intrigued by the subject matter, we should look through such to the structure, wording, and phraseology given to us by Father Kurt (which I might have mentioned before as Tabitha King's pet name for Vonnegut). And, as I see now how much I've written without approaching my actual point, I've made a sort of personal discovery, a link back into my own past, or history, as the title of this entry might suggest.

I do not use the term "history" here literally, because the point I have realized deals with my parents, both very much alive, but, in a fashion, images of my past, just as any of my ancestors could be considered stepping stones on the way to me in the family tree (and I do not mean this vainly, for anyone, it is true). What I mean to say is that my long-windedness is perhaps explained by who my parents are, in a way. I have a mother who cannot seem to begin mid-story and must restart from the beginning in many times in most every conversation, and although this is no major flaw, it results in something similar to this, a lot of "mass" used and little "information" exchanged. My father, then, added into this equation could account for this emphasis on the written word, for, himself not a writer (although, his father, my grandfather to some extent was, my grandfather to some extent was everything), is most definitely a reader, and I would wager has read a few thousand books in his day (not actually hyperbole, if we count rereadings of the same book as multiples), and could extend to me such an impulsion towards written language. I do belittle my mother for her inability to skip over what has already been told, but I find now that perhaps it is my same trouble here, for I am unable to cut this and get to the point of this struggle, what I truly wanted to say here.

Then again, all that above could just be some form of rationalization, an explanation for why my "important point" to make will amount to little more than a simple paragraph, and since I write directly from my mind much more often than not, I am actually unsure how much of a point it is that I have to make, how many words or sentences it will amount to.

But now that I have explained why it is that I have alluded to Mr. KVJ, I will amend his quote to suit my purposes, for the true point here was to say that I think one of the biggest mistakes we're making, second only to being people, has to do with what history really is, and what we have envisioned it as. What history is is a construct, an ability for us to look back and say that "this is what happened" back then. What we try to say it is is truth, which is very far from the mark.

It might be due to my current reading of Robertson Davies's pseudo-memoir through the eyes of Dunstan Ramsay, Fifth Business, but the way I have recently grown to consider history is as a concept very much like a fiction, where, as the saying goes, the writers are the winners. This, however is not the exact point I wish to make. What I want to say has more to do with happenstance, with occurence, than with the heroes involved.

See, what humanity seems to be at least partially about is accepting and casting blame, which is something I find it difficult to write about myself, and it has stalled a novel I'm working on. At the end of the first part, I need the nameless narrator to be able to explain how all the people who he has blamed all through the book so far are not the sole perpetrators in ruining the life that he is now attempting to run away from. Perhaps it is because the narrator, an unnamed, faceless character, is too much me, or, in a paradoxical way that I must attribute to Aaron McMullan, not enough me, that I cannot seem to account for his actions myself, as the writer, and thus cannot find them in my mind to write.

I doubt any of this is making sense, but what my original idea was, was that people of the past, people like Hitler, people like Stalin, what is to say that they weren't just examples of their era? I don't mean to lessen their terrors, only increase our own, for, truly, antisemitism in Germany extended outside of Adolf's head, went back in its own ways to Christian roots in the works of Martin Luther and the one-sidedness of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and Stalin was an incredibly complex and horrible man, but he was also faced with a complicated and terrifying problem. What Stalin did is horrifying, but is it inhuman? I think we try to think that way. What history for us seems to be about is creating villains and while both mentioned here are truly evil characters, my point is that there were plenty of other Germans who could have been Hitlers in that situation, and, in place of Stalin, with all the power provided to said replacement, I find it difficult to see the story playing differently. Stalin, himself, is the example of what I believe we do with our history, he moved from person to person, group to group, finding someone to blame for his problems, for his country's problems.

What really troubles me about this is that I believe we actually need to be able to take the blame for what has come to happen, for what we've done as a people in the past, and we don't seem to want to do that. We want to blame our villains, our Hitlers and Stalins, and we want to say, "Look, this was a good war, or a just war. At least it was necessary."

And, even though there's a KKK today, it wasn't that long ago that America was a racist nation. In Spain, just over a generation ago, Franco was still in power, the country was still as locked down as it could possibly be. I guess I really have no reason to talk about these things, since I'm no historian, but what I'm really afraid of is that in the future, when we've passed by our current prejudices, when we look back, I'm afraid that then we're going to have to find someone to blame.

And it seems to be in this way, by saying, look it's these people, it was this guy who did this, it by these ways of blaming that we have been able to justify not accepting everyone as a whole. Because, in this way we can blame others for not doing so, and we can thusly not feel bad ourselves. And, as a member of most majorities, and, as a man on top of that, I don't have anything to gain by this, but it does seem to be a problem.

And, with that, I bid you adieu, sorry for boring you.