In the Storm

19 04 2011

Historical work is a strange affair for me. I spend most of my time tracking tiny little details through the dense woods, catching fleeting glimpses of them here and there in the historical record. Those sort of deer paths wind in and out of the sweep of history that draws together peoples and nations, distant lands and ways of living.

So much of what I find rests uneasily atop the comfortable history of cultures and nations. In place of great nations and peoples, I keep stumbling upon these half-hidden hollows teeming with shadows that comingle.

Then, sometimes, those paths open up to an overlook and look down on the valley of history. It looks to me like nothing so much as a heaving flood upon which everyone is adrift.

Except I am not really above it all. At the same time I feel like I am glimpsing it from above, I feel myself within it, adrift and cast about on the rising flood.

In those moments, I feel the deepest sympathy with Walter Benjamin. It is hard not to be overcome with horror; it is hard not to be overcome with hope.

“When it all comes down to dust, I will kill if you must, I will help you if I can”

Then, thankfully, it is back to the deer paths. There is hope to be found there, too.

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