The view from here and now

Writing about memory and history by Hilary Mantel, Thomas Nagel, Salman Rushdie, Eric Hobsbawm, Jorie Graham, Tom Crewe, Rosalind Mitchison, Adam Phillips and Steven Mithen.

Diary: Hilary Mantel meets her stepfather

Hilary Mantel, 23 October 2003

Let’s unwrap this. Let’s shine a torch back into the mouth of the underworld, and take some notes in the mouth of the cavern. Let’s return there, as the fabled dog to its vomit. Let it be a trotty dog with an eager curled tail.

One can believe in moral progress without accusing past ages of wickedness or stupidity (though there is plenty of both in all ages). Perhaps progress can occur only through a series of historical stages, in morality as in science.

Imaginary Homelands

Salman Rushdie, 7 October 1982

‘The past is a foreign country,’ goes the famous opening sentence of L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, ‘they do things differently there.’ But the photograph tells me to invert this idea: it reminds me that it’s my present that is foreign, and that the past is home, albeit a lost home in a lost city in the mists of lost time.

Diary: Memories of Weimar

Eric Hobsbawm, 24 January 2008

Large enough to block the fashioning of a lasting non-right Weimar regime, the left did not wish to contribute anything to its practical politics except disgust. For understandable reasons creative artists, radicalised by the horrors of war and the hope and fury left behind by lost revolution, were attracted to it; indeed, there are Weimar figures whose lasting achievement rests primarily on the force of their distaste for the republic. Even genuine high talents like George Grosz and Kurt Weill ceased to be very interesting when, after 1933, they arrived in the US and felt at ease.

Poem: ‘WE’

Jorie Graham, 8 January 2015

Looked for all the intersections. Time and fiction. Asked can it be / true? Time and history. Asked can it really be true? This is happening. But is / not what the real feels like. The past? Is senseless.

Short Cuts: Colourisation

Tom Crewe, 22 March 2018

Sharing isn’t always caring. One thing we do know for sure is that huge numbers of us have handed over our own memories to a corporation, and that it wants us to remember. For now, only what we were doing this time last year, three years ago, ten. But it also wants us to keep moving, to make more memories, to change.


Rosalind Mitchison, 17 September 1987

So long as nationalism is used as a reason for political or terrorist activities it is important to be able to understand just what it entails. Why do some groups of people claim to be nations while others, with perhaps as clearly formed a culture and even as clearly marked linguistic boundaries, do not? Why does national identity in some cultures require the repression of its manifestations in others?

The Shock of the Old

Adam Phillips, 10 February 1994

People come for psychoanalysis when there is something they cannot forget, something they cannot stop telling themselves about their lives. And these dismaying repetitions – this unconscious limiting or coercion of the repertoire of lives and life-stories – create the illusion of time having stopped.

So what is the revolution, if it is not in our understanding of the genetic basis of cognitive and behavioural differences between modern humans and our ancestors and relatives? It is in our ability to write the history of human populations, their movements and their mixing, throughout time and across the world, which in turn gives us insights into past population sizes, patterns of social interaction and political structures. All this from DNA.

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