These were thoughts I made note of three years ago – but they feel entirely timely given current discussions around the ‘erasure’ of history. It’s not about the monuments. it’s about the stories they tell – and don’t tell – the myths that grow up around them, and the associated histories that the myths sometimes de-story (and sometimes don’t, despite determined efforts to do so).
We shouldn’t erase history – but nor should we allow one version of it to erase and de-story those who took part in it, either!
Sideways thoughts that lead to interesting places …
I just scrolled past a meme/post that I would normally just go on scrolling past somewhat indifferently. It was meant to be funny, a ‘prank’ about destroying something personal … except that the wording on the meme was misspelled, and instead of ‘destroying’ it said ‘destorying.’
And my mind went ‘hang on a minute! Is that possible? Is there a concept to wrestle with here? Can one ‘de-story’ something? Is there a fable to be written about a society that eliminates/erases people/history/ideas by removing their stories? That doesn’t hide the truth but unpicks it, reducing narrative – first to bare facts, and then scattering their description in such a way that they cannot be reconstructed?
Imagine a world where stories can be un-written. Where myth and tale and fable – and by implication their underpinning ideas – can be deconstructed and eliminated from record and history. Where metaphors, and maybe even words, can lose their meaning because the tales that spawned them no longer exist. What would it be like to live in such a place? To wake one morning and to find that – for instance – ‘Star Trek’ was simply ‘gone.’
Unraveling something so deeply ingrained in a society would be difficult, of course, and probably leave a gaping hole in a number of people’s psyches – but would we miss the little things? Would there be flashes of memory of books read, and authors once known, but no longer on record? How would perceptions of history change if certain events had been de-storyed and their understanding lost?
And would there be people fighting to reclaim lost stories? To recreate de-storyed narratives?
Unlikely? Impossible? Regrettably, I think it’s all too possible. That Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, those who parrot ‘fake news’ and others in today’s society are attempting to de-story history – to deconstruct record and reconstruct it so that core ideas and events simply vanish as unnecessary complications that deflect the story *they* want to tell. That people in ages past have effectively de-storyed history even as they tried to tell it (the Victorians, hiding erotic Roman mosaics, colonialists denying the legacy of older civilizations in the countries they sought to conquer …)
Which brings me to the realisation that culture and society is not just built on stories, but built *from* the detritus of older ones, de-storyed by time, and perception, and all those other things that changes in mind, interpretation, attitude, and understanding bring. That we recycle ideas and stories *constantly* rewording, reworking, and – yes – de-storying them to make new. Or to simply rediscover what once was.
So the defense against erasure of ideas and history is much more than imposing simple preservation orders – it has to be the recognition of cultural evolution, and the conscious development of an archeology of words.
A final thought/question – there is clearly a distinction between the inevitable de-storying of old tales brought about by time and changes in society, and malicious, (intentional or otherwise) de-storying aimed to reshape and/or erase ideas and history. What can we do to highlight that distinction? And is it as clear a line as might at first be thought?