Editor's note: Reading history through colored glasses


5.1.12 History. His Story. history. We can only ever see the past through the convex lens of the present, one of the truths of epistemology and existence, that, to be frank, is too often ignored. I just finished a book by Alasdair Maclean in which he explores the loss of Scottish Highland culture and his own roots. It’s not sentimental and in his epilogue, written from a grubby Glasgow suburb, he says, “It may be–or I feel that it may be in my more despondent moments–that our unconscious chooses neighborhoods for us as it chooses marriage partners, matching people to bricks with a merciless accuracy no computer could rival.”

When I first read those lines, I thought of them as poetic and melancholic, but as they seeped in, I realized they were both much more troubling and possibly redemptive. At any rate, his words are absolutely related to our inability to see out from under ourselves. Let me explain. I interviewed the aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee for this issue, and in one exchange, we talked about the conflict between indigenous people’s own historical accounts and those of the academy. White people, he said, will always tell some kind of story about arriving at the promised land. The paper this week also includes an interview with Sissy Spacek, in which she talks about the way actors appropriate lives and roll them into their own, and a review of the film Marley, which adds complexity to the biography of a world hero who coined the phrase “One Love,” but also adhered to Rastafarian beliefs. Confronted with a Colonialist teaching system that insisted rum runner, slave trader, and pirate Henry Morgan was a founding father, the Rastafarians countered with a version of history that was equally preposterous, tracing Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie to Jesus Christ and King Solomon.

This week’s feature is the first in a series of historical musings on Charlottesville, penned by J. Tobias Beard, as our contribution to the city’s 250th anniversary. You’re in a canoe running downriver. Fix your eyes on a precise point on the bank. Pass it on.–Giles Morris