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Passions in Poetry

History and/is Fiction

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Brad
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0 posted 01-21-2001 09:04 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

About five years ago, I was having a conversation concerning history and my friend burst out, "History is all fiction!" At the time, I was struck by the tone of this outburst -- he seemed upset and disillusioned. I stopped the conversation.

Well, is history just a fiction?

I don't think so. I don't think so because history and fiction are trying to do two different things and perhaps more importantly are read in different ways.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that history is objective and fiction is subjective.

More later,
Brad


dreamer1 12 5 24
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1 posted 01-22-2001 12:35 AM       View Profile for dreamer1 12 5 24   Email dreamer1 12 5 24   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for dreamer1 12 5 24

Have you read "nineteen eighty four"? (By George Orwell) History can be fiction if it is controled- "Who controls the past, ...controls the future: who controls the present controls the past".
In the book, very well-writen and even believable, the people are told that the chocolate ration is going down from 30 ounces to 20. The next day, they are told that they should be glad that the chocolate ration was raised 10 ounces to 20, and the people believed it.
The basic principle was, using and example from the book, that if everyone thought that 2 + 2 = 5, than it became reality.
I think that's all I have to say.

....peace as a primary objective is dangerous because it implies that we would sacrifice anything for the sake of it....
Robert Kaplan
fractal007
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2 posted 01-22-2001 04:06 AM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Dreamer:

I have read that book.  I think it is a VERY convincing book.  On a side note, I just saw a show today on how advertisers are now trying to tap into the subconscious minds of consumers.  What's next, eh?

Brad and all:

As far as history being fiction, I think that history teaches that, fiction or not, nobody really learns anything from history.

Brad, specifically:

I know the experience you've described all too well.  I remember discussing quantum mechanics with someone while training to counsel at a Bible camp.  While we were talking, I could hear the rumblings of various simple-minded right wingers saying "That's all crap", and so on.  The same thing happened when I decided to refer to Isaac Asimov when discussing something.  I can't quite remember what it was, but someone interjected "Isaac Asimov was an atheist!" as though that gave him less weight in the world.

So, I believe that to tie this all up:

Believe whatever you want to believe, but don't believe in it too much.  If you do  people will take advantage of you and brainwash you as they did to my unfortunate interjectors, who will likely never broaden their horizons due to so much conditioning.

As far as fiction being subjective and history objective, I would like to refer to something my english teacher once told me.  She said that when studying history, one must be careful to watch for propoganda.  Take recent history for example:

In the Gulf War, the Americans claim to have defeated Sadam Hussein.  But did they really defeat him?  I have seen the news stories pertaining to the recent tenth aniversary of that conflict.  Sadam is still in power, smuggling supplies into his country, European companies are taking the American/UN sanctions less and less seriously, and the sanctions themselves are defeating none other than the poor innocent children of the Iraqi people.  What a hell of a victory!

Now, I know that the issue I've just discussed is not as simple as I've made it out to be.  However, I feel that it is a good example of propaganda in the history textbooks.  So, Brad, your friend was likely partially right.  However, I do not agree with his rather extreme way of stating his ideas.

As far as fiction being subjective:

We'll use 1984 as an example.  In our society, there is no Big Brother.  There is no intoxicating chemical used to keep the masses happy.  There is no Thought Police.  

However, in my country[Canada] we have privacy dissipating and people's personal lives regularly appearing as headlines on the news papers.  We have assemblies in our schools praising our country's peace and justice, even though there are poor drunkards on every street corner in our big cities.  Big corporations from all over the globe are regularly getting in bed with our government.  To those who would oppose such things, pepper spray is the only answer from the mouth of the government.  

Now, I'm not saying that Canada is as extreme as the example put forward in Orwell's book.  However, we need to understand the reasoning behind his book in the first place.  It was a satire of the utopian views of the future put forward in such works as H.G. Wells' Modern Utopia.  Although I have not read that book, I still appreciate Nineteen Eighty-Four's satirical value when it comes to critiquing our own society.  We have all the technology available to watch people and probe their minds.  But guess who's doing the probing!  The corporations!  They want to get rich quick off of our privacy.  My government is in bed with just about major corporation!  

So, Brad, as far as history and fiction's being able to be placed as objective or subjective, I don't like to think that there are clear distinctions.  Just like works of fiction, actual historical accounts can be used for the purposes of good or those of evil.  
jbouder
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3 posted 01-23-2001 01:11 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Hey Brad:

History, objectively speaking, is comprised of events that took place in the past.  In that sense, history is not fiction ... it is fact.  

Interpretation of historical events can be another story and even well-wrought legal-historical reasoning can produce a result that, in reality, is non-historical.  Eye-witness testimony can be mistaken and direct evidentce can be misinterpretted.  In my estimation, there is no way to be 100% certain that a historical event took place in the exact manner as any given historian might suggest (this is precisely why the standards of proof to be met in a courtroom are usually either "beyond a reasonable doubt" or "by preponderance of the evidence".  

I think it is fair to say that all historical interpretation has a degree of uncertainty associated with it, but not to say that all history is fiction.  But if being a historian was easy, everybody would want to be one, right?

Jim
Ron
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4 posted 01-23-2001 01:57 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

The past fifty years has been filled with some of the most incredible history in, uh, history. Those of us old enough to have lived through some of it can already see it being rewritten and reinterpreted by the media, with no more than a few decades to separate fact from fiction. Attitudes change. But attitudes are very much a part of history, and a failure to understand those past perspectives cannot help but change the way the facts are perceived by those who follow.

History, I think, is a moving target.
Krawdad
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5 posted 01-23-2001 08:28 PM       View Profile for Krawdad   Email Krawdad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Krawdad

And consider the likely historians . . .

The Victors, not the vanquished,
The Wealthy, not the poor,
The Powerful, not the trodden,
The Politicians, not the people,
The Survivors, not the dead.

Might there be some bias there, or something more?
Sock
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6 posted 01-24-2001 12:37 AM       View Profile for Sock   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Sock

I have recently started reading a book on World Mythology, and it's belief is that parts of a Historic tale are true and in time 'extras' get added on to suit the period.

It is really interesting that people can change history with just words.  So in a why I think that history can have some aspect of fiction.  After all fossils, artefacts can only tell so much of a story.

Sock.  
Gene
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7 posted 02-02-2001 01:03 PM       View Profile for Gene   Email Gene   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Gene's Home Page   View IP for Gene

Brad,

I studied Psycho Hitory in college. It's the study of Psychoanalytic theory applied to History.

First, history is the remembrance of the past. In other words, history is only history when someone recalls it.

Many times when a major event happens, people say, "It's history now" or "We're witnessing history in the making." Actually, those are false statements, since the definition of history is "the study of the past," it doesn't become history until someone goes back and researches (remembers) it.

Your friend is not so far from the truth. The problem with history is that it takes human itervention in order to study it, often leading to misinterpretation and inaccuracies. Much of history is nothing more than a myth. For example, we know that Columbus landed in America in 1492. That's a fact--no dispute there. Yet we still perpetuate the myth that he discovered America, while knowing that scholars disagree. Even scholars disagree on what actually occured. To portray Columbus as a compassionate man who had a vision of creating a "new world" is totally inaccurate. Yet the majority of people believe this myth--in essence, fiction.    
Moon Dust
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8 posted 02-02-2001 09:22 PM       View Profile for Moon Dust   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Moon Dust

I think some history is just made up to seem more appealing to the genral public. But also there may be some facts through history, in the evidence that is found.
So in answer to the question I'd say it was both fact and fiction.    

~Maria~

Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


9 posted 02-04-2001 06:59 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I guess, at bottom, what people seem to be saying here is that history is both fictive and true -- neither subjective nor objective.

Okay (I have problems with this characterization but I'll let it go for now), but the tone here seems to be a kind of apathetic shrug to what an historian actually does.

Fiction is not debated here which is interesting. Fiction is fiction and history is true is the general supposition I guess and once history is found to be less than wholly accurate, a certain type of betrayal seems to set in. Historians make mistakes and so we can lump it all in with fiction.

But isn't it also said that fiction contains the seeds of truth within it?

Fractal007 argues against the statement: "the Allies won the Gulf War" because Saddam Hussein is still in power. This is a statement, however, that I find accurate. I agree because the stated goal in that war was not the ousting of Hussein but the ousting of Iraq from Kuwait. I believe Bush made the correct move here; it was an unstable coalition at best and the last time we changed war aims mid-stream (Korea) we ended up in a three year battle with China and North Korea. Somalia came later when we changed our aims again and look what happened.

It is this type of history that seems important to me because it moves away from the simple winner/loser -- right/wrong metaphors that seem so prevalent when history is not presented. Those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it isn't always true but if you don't know history you stay in a 1950's comic book view of the world (comic books today are pretty sophisticated). If you know history, you won't always get it 'right' but the complexity of the situation will allow debates on the question: Did the Allies win the Gulf War?

I think it is an accurate statement but fracal007 has a point as well; it's a different question though: were the stated goals of the coalition the correct ones given the situation today? Should they have changed mid-stream?

A traditional historian might argue that these aren't really historical questions (They imply the notorious 'what if' counter-factual statement -- alternate history if you will.) but they ask them all the time. Historians are human too.

But what about the history of fiction? It is common place in these forums to  say: "My poetry is from the heart." The statement itself doesn't really bother me except that it so often is used to determine the value of a poem rather than the motivation for a poem. It so often leaves everything unexamined (which I guess is the point of saying it). Yet, historically where does this idea come from?  On a personal level, I guess it comes from a certain type of creative writing that is pushed in high schools (or lower). But where did this idea come from? No doubt other factors are involved here (pop psychology, pedagogy, motivational theories, mysticism with respect to breaking something into lines, the confusion between being a non-conformist and being an individual) but in the history of poetry, one can see the roots in the Romantics (in Emerson and Thoreau's transcendentalism, in Wordsworth's "emotion recollected in tranquility"). One might argue that it began as a misunderstanding of Modernism (Pound and Eliot). The problem of course is that none of these writers actually wrote in the way that it is so often interpreted (and Wilde's argument that bad poetry is so often sincere is so often completely forgotten). The main force of this statement comes from a writer who many here, as has been pointed out by those in my thread on Howl, would avoid: Ginsberg.

Ginsberg was a constant force in telling people to write what they felt, that it was okay to do this, and that great poetry comes as a result (Pound was not). I'm not trying to say that people are writing like Ginsberg (whether you want to do this or not is beside the point) but that Ginsberg was instrumental in current poetic theories present in the mainstream of these forums and others.  It may sound strange to call 'poetry from the heart' a poetic theory but that is what it is.

Am I wrong? I am making an historical argument (as general as it is) but you can't simply say, "I disagree" here without giving historical evidence to counter my claims. To argue "I've never read Ginsberg" (or the Beats in general) is still beside the point because I'm arguing that you needn't have read him to follow his practice, to use his rationales (without credit). There are a number of ways to counter this but I'm not going to tell anyone how; there are a number of ways to make me modify this and, as general as this argument is, I already see some points for reconsideration but again I'm not going to tell you how.

The point is you can only argue history with history.

Yet, what's the difference between history and fiction? History contains elements of fiction and fiction elements of history; we all seem to agree on that.

When you are in a debate with someone or a conversation which argument do you find more naturally persuasive: historical or fictive?  

The difference to my mind lies in the way you here the two: 'My research shows' versus 'I just made this up.' It is true that fiction writers do mountains of research and it is true that historians sometimes have to guess but the emphases on both are reversed. If an historian gets something wrong, his credibility can be put into question but if Joyce gets a fact wrong, does anybody really care that much?

In other words, they are not the same thing and it is in this reversal, not the separation, of the historical and the fictive that makes all the difference.

Brad
jbouder
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10 posted 02-05-2001 12:42 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

I wish I had more time to address many of your above statements.  For now, I'll start at the end.

quote:
When you are in a debate with someone or a conversation which argument do you find more naturally persuasive: historical or fictive?


I often find myself in disagreements with others over one thing or another in my line of work.  People quite simply are not always easily persuaded by the "preponderance of evidence".  Practically speaking, one's argument is made much more effective by keeping it simple.  Most people tend to make up their minds very early in a debate (if not before it begins).

quote:
The difference to my mind lies in the way you here the two: 'My research shows' versus 'I just made this up.' It is true that fiction writers do mountains of research and it is true that historians sometimes have to guess but the emphases on both are reversed. If an historian gets something wrong, his credibility can be put into question but if Joyce gets a fact wrong, does anybody really care that much?


Perhaps things are a little different in academia (but I seriously doubt it).  Revisionist historians are often lauded if their research supports a certain activist view, even when the weight of historical evidence is not on their side and, at least publicly, these historians are never taken to task (I have one in mind, specifically).  

I suppose the real problem lies in the assumption that the "research" in the "My research shows" argument is credible.  I think the "research" often goes unchallenged by most of us at one time or another.  

This doesn't even begin to touch the very real possibility that the same facts can have very different outcomes (OJ Simpson criminal vs. civil & Rodney King state vs. Federal cases, for a couple examples).

I do think there is a real danger in statements like "Poetry comes from the heart" and "That is just your opinion" insomuch as they both serve to shut down discussion.  Putting an arbitrary end to debate is no way to get to the best answer.
fractal007
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11 posted 02-05-2001 02:44 PM       View Profile for fractal007   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for fractal007

Brad:

I agree, the goals of the coalition did not involve the ousting of Saddam Husein.  However, I think that there is still a very large amount of propoganda coming out of the US.  I like to see through all that, and think more along cynical lines.  Why did the US go to war?  Probably because some large fortune they were sharing in was at stake.  We all know how much oil comes from the Middle East.  

The Kossovo conflict seemed to have more to it than the destruction of Melosovic's military.  Look at the bombing of the Chinese embassy.  I have studied US military technology and methods[at least from books by Tom Clancy and books on current NATO aircraft].  I find the idea that the US was using outdated maps to be one of the least convincing excuses I've ever heard.  Call me paranoid or something, but I think that there was likely something going on behind that.  This is because I know that the US often uses satellites and other high tech reconaissance systems to find and identify targets and such, for bombing raids.  I highly doubt that the world's most sophisticated military could not be bothered to update its maps.

About the modern era, I have not studied it enough to argue any of the points you've raised.  But I do agree that one should write poetry from one's "heart" or whatever else makes up a human being.  I think that "heart" and "soul" are classified as the metaphysical elements, to use a technical word, lol[correct me if I'm wrong tho].  I don't think I would like it[I don't know how many I speak for here, so I won't jump to any conclusions] if poetry only carried weight if it followed certain styles of meter, rhyme, and stanza.  How can poetry, or anything else for that matter, evolve if it stays the same all the time?  The history books will record our era, both in its literary sense, and its historical sense, as being on of the greatest transitions in history.  Maybe I'm just being too romantic or "new aged", but it seems to me that we're headed for something, either a nightmare world of Orwellian work ethics, or perhaps something similar to Huxley's "Brave New World".  Or perhaps it is something we have never thought of or seen before...
Brad
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Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


12 posted 02-06-2001 03:36 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Jim and Frac,

Thanks for reading this (I didn't think anyone would).

Jim,

Academia is the same but my argument here is very specific. Arguments in a general sense will have to be addressed later.  

I agree that to say 'from the heart' is dangerous -- thinking seriously about starting another thread just on that.

fractal,
It is indeed metaphysical. There are other words to describe it as well.

Propaganda and history aren't the same thing. History is used as propaganda at times but it's not the same.

It's funny because I originally intended to explain what historians actually do and found myself moving in a very different direction -- these things happen.  

Brad
 
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