Re: In re Davenport (2), aka "History is dead?"

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 11:04:00 -0500

This post by Davenport, the "other" American anthropologist living and
working in
Japan, is very much worth being repeated. It exposes the glib,
shallow views that McCreery clothes in the romantic, spurious language of
the advertising industry that relies, to keep itself alive, on
manufacturing ever new ways to get the consumer to consume more and more.
Davenport's critique of McCreery's romanticization of history is perhaps
summed up in the phrase "history as critique-forming is missing in our
lives so that we will be able to try to take action to change our
situation." This evokes for me the history written by the historian Mary
Ritter Beard, wife of the famous historian, who, in her survey in the
late l940s of about a dozen of the current American history books found
three brief mentions of the hundred-year struggle of the first American
feminists for the emancipation of American women. This is history as
plain gross omission of crucial events in the lives of all Americans,
just as in the dialogues of the history and philosophy of science that
went on forever on this list, the history of the
"culture" of science, with its blatant sexism and racism, was grossly and
deliberately omitted. Ruby Rohrlich

On Wed, 13 Mar 1996, Clyde Davenport wrote:

> At 4:49 PM 96.3.12 +0900, John McCreery wrote:
> >Clyde Davenport writes,
> >
> >"Have we not lost the sense of being in the midst of living
> >history and so try to recreate the (dead) history of the
> >past in the present?"
> >As I read this, I am puzzled. Who is this "we" that
> >Davenport is speaking of?
> A good question, since the "we" voice in writing is
> often a rhetorical ploy to draw the reader into identifying
> with a pre-existing collectivity (which may though be
> nothing more than the writer's assembled opinions).
> However, in the context of what I wrote immediately before
> and after the above sentence it is clear that I meant
> "people in the late 20th century" or "we moderns
> (or postmoderns)."
> >I grew up, as I've said before, in Virginia and
> >was schooled in institutions that reminded me repeatedly
> >that I lived and walked on hallowed ground where the first
> >English-speaking settlements were founded, and great
> >battles of the Revolution and the Civil War were fought.
> OK, so I admit that we are taught "history" in school, but I
> never liked this kind of history found in books in part because
> it was so much a recreated history, or in fact an invented history.
> This is slightly off the point, but why was it that you were
> taught nothing of the "history" of the people who were there
> before the first English settlers arrived (and so little of what
> the First Peoples' history was and has been after the English
> settlers, etc., took things over)? Also, (in my experience) the
> treatments of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War that we
> get in primary and secondary schools are on the whole superficial,
> and ideologically biased. It's meant to make us good patriotic
> citizens, but not to help us to understand what our historical
> tradition is in its many guises (as I'm sure the feminists
> will also tell you).
> Actually, I think that one long-standing feature of our American
> culture has been its forgetfulness of history. We have looked to
> the future, and not the past, in part because we know that we
> have a rather ugly past. Also, we came to America to get away
> from Europe, so we have not been overly interested in importing
> the European notion of history. This in part explains the
> "historical" weakness of communism in the U.S., since Marxism
> merely continues (albeit intensifying) the European notion
> of history as linear progress to some goal.
> >My grandfather drove the mules when his family moved
> >from one town to another in Missouri. My parents
> >experienced the Great Depression and WWII.
> My family has had this kind of situated history, too. But when
> we speak of the "end of history" we are not talking about this
> kind of experience of things happening to us personally, or to our
> ancestors. The "end of history" concerns the end of history from
> a more global political or cultural point of view. If you want to
> use you parents and grandfather as examples, this is all well and
> good. But you should reveal how their reaction to these events in
> their lives were conditioned by the grand metanarratives in the
> "history" in which they found themselves in. For example, in the
> Great Depression were your parents socialists, New Dealers, or
> some other species of political animal? In WWII, did your
> parents believe that we (Americans) were fighting to rid the
> world of fascism? Etc.
> >I myself am able to remember
> >the in-bound tracers in news footage when John Cameron
> >Swazey reported the Inchon landings in Korea, the news of
> >Sputnik, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin
> >Luther King, the Nixon visit to China,
> Here you find yourself influenced by the new medium of TV
> in your historical imagination. TV makes it seem as if you were
> right there in seeing "the in-bound tracers." Your "images" of
> the other events were also no doubt influenced by TV (which is
> not to say that you didn't read the newspaper, etc., but your
> knowledge gained therein was contextualized through
> the images you received from the boob tube).
> >the introduction of the fax machine and PC.
> Ah, the march (it's not dance, it's drill) of technology!
> The speed of progress, and history becomes ever more
> rapid, dizzying, blinding.
> >As someone who did fieldwork and still
> >has friends in Taiwan, not to mention a daughter in
> >training to become an officer in the U.S. Navy, I read news
> >of Chinese missile launches in the straits of Taiwan and
> >maneuverings of U.S. warships in the waters near Taiwan
> >with a keen personal interest.
> Bringing up China also brings up the issue of how the
> Chinese have a rather different sense of their own history
> than that which Europeans or Americans have had (but may
> no longer have any more, at least in the same way). For a
> time in the frenzy of the Cultural Revolution, it seemed
> as if the Chinese were going to destroy their sense of
> having a unique historical past. But this background of
> cultural history was too resilient to be destroyed by one
> communist leader (who unconsciously behaved in the grand
> style of a Chinese emperor of old). But it is possible that
> today's hypercapitalism will succeed where communism had
> failed. At any rate, the economic dislocations occurring in
> China today through market reforms are quite frightening in
> their political implications. A war could be useful to give
> the vast numbers of unemployed people something to do.
> Also, to understand the relation between Taiwan and China,
> and the fierce pride which China takes in insisting that Taiwan
> is not independent (which strikes the Western observer as
> patently counterfactual), is only possible if you cast off the
> baggage of our own Western intellectual past and come to see
> things from the viewpoint of Chinese civilization and culture
> (albeit in its present seemingly Marxist guise). That the U.S.
> wants to get involved in this difficult relation is worrying.
> Having lost the Cold War (here I mean not the "lost" of "winning"
> and "losing"--Hey, we won, didn't we?--but rather the "lost" of
> "misplaced") as a guide for policy, we have been left free floating
> in our political destiny. But politicians abhor a vacuum so
> perhaps they are trying to reinvent a new scenario to replace
> the one we lost.
> >This week I attended a Democratic party caucus in
> >Tokyo and cast my votes for resolutions for the party
> >program. As someone who works in the advertising
> >business, I am constantly aware of the need to follow
> >changes in Japanese consumer behavior and trade frictions
> >between the U.S. and Japan. History is very alive to me.
> What is this "history" of changes in consumer behavior and
> trade friction between the U.S. and Japan if not the clash
> between the old monopolist mode of capitalism (where each
> country protected its own industries) and the transnationalist
> mode where countries (and thus, too, "history" in the old sense)
> lose much of their significance as independent entities? And
> what is a certain patriotic expatriate U.S. citizen doing at a
> Democratic convention held in a foreign country, but trying to
> get information that will be useful to him in his work for a
> Japanese advertising company? It's all a little difficult
> for me to imagine what actually is going on here with all
> the shifts of place and allegiance.
> >Then I pick up my newspaper. I read about Bosnia, bombings
> >in Israel, the fury of the Irish Republican army, the
> >prospect of massacres in Burundi, battles in Chechnya, not
> >to mention that business with China I mentioned above. All
> >involve thousands, millions, perhaps even billions of
> >people who care deeply about their history . It strikes me
> >(and, yes, I am being deliberately bitchy) that only
> >ostriches with their heads in sands of MTV could believe
> >the proposition that history is dead. I do not count myself
> >among them.
> Of course, one need not pick up a newspaper since the
> same information is beamed to your home for your own
> private perusal. The news stories from every corner of
> the globe rapidly (basically instantly) are available for
> your viewing pleasure. What is left out is the "historical"
> context behind all these struggles which would make the
> positions of the various groups of participants more
> understandable. TV is instantaneous and global, but by
> this very fact it prevents us from being able to contextualize
> the vast amounts of information we receive. In terms of
> providing factual (cultural, historical, etc.) background
> information, print media are more enlightening, but
> recently many magazines and newspapers have adopted a
> TV like approach of using a heavy emphasis on visuals
> (in the type of graphic language used as much as in the
> photographs) to the detriment of real analysis. [By the
> way, the last time I watched MTV was two and a half
> years ago when I visited my friend in the States.]
> In closing, I would like to say that in responding to John
> McCreery's reply I realized that we have many different
> notions which we subsume under the same rubric of "history"
> Our discussions would be more profitable if we didn't get
> them confused. A tentative list would go something like this:
> 1. History as the things which we remember happening to us
> directly, or which other people have told to us. I think this is
> basically an anthropological (or ethnographic) notion of history.
> 2. History as the study of people's or ethnic groups. This, too,
> is basically an anthropological form of history although
> anthropological studies of this kind of history tend to leave
> out the politics (and their history).
> 3. History as the history of political interactions between
> different groups in one country. This kind of history will
> necessarily always be biased as it will be written from one
> kind of political viewpoint.
> 4. History as the story of countries and their interactions
> with each other. This is the stuff of ordinary textbook
> history of primary and secondary schools. It is also always
> a biased form of history because there is no third-party
> perspective to take in order to step outside the flow of
> history in this sense. It's always going to be from a
> particular country's point-of-view (or from the point-
> of-view of a particular group within a particular country).
> 5. History as a more regional entity. Here we have things
> like the history of Western civilization or the history of
> Chinese civilization (the latter in an emic sense). Here,
> the boundary of the nation-state is overcome, but this
> overcoming of boundaries also has a political meaning
> (colonialism, etc.)
> 6. History as critique. Here some theoretical perspective
> is used to overcome the biases of (at least) some of these
> other kinds of histories. Feminism and Marxism are two good
> examples of this kind of history (although Marxism also has
> its variant of "official Marxist history" which is a version
> of #5).
> 7. True scientific (world) history. Here "science" is being
> used in its good sense as a system of comprehensive
> knowledge (and not in its negative sense of "scientism" which
> would result in a history like that in #5). I think we have a
> long way to go in this regard. All the "history" is out there, but
> it has not yet been synthesized together into a coherent
> narrative. There's just too much data (as well as gaps in
> the data).
> Concerning the postmodern sense of the "end" of history,
> what is being talked about is the sense of history involved
> in primarily #5. History loses its meaning as an ideological
> guide. This is also what Fukuyama talks about: "The struggle
> for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely
> abstract goal, the world ideological struggle that called forth
> daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by
> economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems,
> environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated
> consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be
> neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of
> the museum of human history. (1989: 3)" (quoted in David
> Ashley, "Playing with Pieces: The Fragmentation of Social
> Theory" in _Critical Theory Now_, Philip Wexler, Falmer
> Press, 1991, p. 83)
> The end of history idea potentially also represents,
> though, #6, history as critique. It tries to show us that
> something is missing in our lives so that we will be able
> to try to take action to change our situation.
> Well, there are other things I could say here, but this
> is already getting too long. And since I didn't bother
> to do much in the way of research before writing this
> (I just used my stock of knowlege at hand, which seems to
> be the typical style on this list), I do not want to belabor
> my hurriedly thought out points.
> Clyde Davenport
> Shobara-shi
> Somewhere in Japan
> 3/13/96 or 8/3/13 (it is the eighth year in the reign of the Heisei emperor)