Sunday, August 12, 2012


Patricio Guzman draws an interesting relationship between archaeology and astronomy in his renowned documentary film The Nostalgia for Light. In the extremely arid setting of the Atacama in Chile, are arrayed some of the mightiest telescopes of the world. The site affords a lucid view of the sky. Hand in hand with this comes yet another geographical peculiarity of the Atacama- near zero humidity which means that historical remnants that can be unearthed from that terrain will be almost freed from the ravages of water. This presents an even more lucid picture of history. What calls for an unlikely matrimony of astronomy and archaeology is the fact that deep in the Atacama lies the mass graves where the dissidents in Pinochet regime were condemned to silence. There are women who scour this impossibly vast terrain with spades looking for the shards of their dearest ones- a feat of endurance that matches the immensity of the Atacama. Some of them were wishing that the telescopes could zero in on the ground as meticulously as they were combing the skies and bring out their beloved. Here the telescopes watch out for the origins of universe, an anthropically fine-tuned entity, and contributes to the knowledge of genealogy of man even as the archaeologists unearth those specters which points to the genealogy of terror. As John the Heretic of Gibran says, the wolves may kill the sheep in the night but at the break of the day all we see the blood and know what happened in the cover of the night.
It is not yet time to forget the Wikileaks episode which brought a brand new vision of the contemporary world construed in the eyes of the major players in world politics. It exposed the "paper trail" of classified information taking the ordinary man into the depths of what happens in reality contrary to his superficial perceptions. A paper trail is the lineage of documented evidence maintained in all the administrative machineries. The common lot is lured into believing that all the determinants of their lives are perceptible to them. Those in power do not want a popular reading of the reality or history. Reality is as they dictate it. In the increased bureaucratic settings of contemporary governments, there is only a selective dispensation of information. The media and the entire government machinery can be complicit in presenting a particular perception as a reality and nothing else. Nobody expect the loci of power to tell the truths, these days. The more immediate the history, the more vehement will be the effort to skew it as one feels. The immediate past is the greatest weapon in the hands of a propagandist in this age of media coverage whose strategies are dictated by the circulation departments. A piece of news is in vogue as long as it generates revenue. Why should there be a paper trail at all if it would transpire the truth at some later juncture down the road given that it is truth that needs to be suppressed at all costs? Truths have to be politically correct. The maintenance of the written documents is a vital part of that blame-game strategy that can ensue at any time if the operational details leak out. There should be always a space available to pass the buck. History cannot be undone.
There can be cases of historical instances getting petrified in the collective psyche of classes of people. Years of struggle and mythmaking can lead to some sort of siege mentality in people. The very identity can become permanently referred to a historical event or situation. Luis Bunuel who thanked God for still keeping him an atheist wanted to convey this fixation for history in his "heretical movie" The Milky Way. It is an exposition of various Christian heresies that confront the ways of two impoverished pilgrims. What is worth noting in the story line is the predicament of various religious affiliations to posit themselves in contrast to others to get themselves demarcated. The cases of religion getting a patriotic hue and any incursions on religion getting treated as treacherous have something to do with the historical consciousness. In the post-patriotic identities designed to suit the neoliberal economies historical oblivion has become a requisite to effect a destructuring of the workforce. It is only by proposing that history has reached its finality that a sense of accomplishment and ultimate dignity can be effected. The cult behaviour rampant in all walks of life is a signifier of an anticipation of an imminent eschatological or apocalyptic finale. History is yearning to come to a grinding halt.
Fukuyama drew inspiration from the development of natural sciences to understand human history. The progress of natural sciences is cumulative and directional. The logic of modern science is to make an economic reading of history that leads to capitalism. He speaks of thymotic pride in man, a concept first proposed by Plato. It is the spirited aspect of man whose satisfaction is crucial to his dignity. This satisfaction cannot be afforded by ordinary man in an authoritarian regime. Therefore democracy becomes the best option and history should have come to end in its developmental sense by the establishment of democracies, which exactly is not so. The problem of recognition is always there, the unquenchable thymotic pride. So we design irrational forms of thymos like nationalism, sectarianism but given that these options are detrimental to capitalist designs we design still more irrational forms of thymos. Since recognition is at stake we get more individualistic, a situation whose glimpses we have now. The eternal race for recognition and approval, the "i-you-he" types of game are catching up again with the barrage of social networking media. It is no accident that Facebook is providing a view known as "timeline view" in lieu of the "wall view." After all it is a bit of personal history which one can tamper with. The obsession with history never dies.

[1] ^Z (Ctrl+Z) is the key combination for an undoing an operation in computer-aided editing. Can we undo history or atleast some parts of it to pamper ourselves?

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