Imaginary Hindsight: Contemporary History in William Morris and H.G. Wells
- 479 Downloads
The utopian Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch asks, in ‘On the Present in Literature’ (1956), whether it is possible to write objectively about something you are simultaneously experiencing subjectively. He comments that ‘all nearness makes matters difficult, and if it is too close, then one is blinded, at least made mute’.1 His essay’s epigraph, a snippet of poetry from Goethe, states: ‘If you want me to show you the vicinity, you must first climb to the roof.’2 This views an elevated perspective as necessary to view a landscape in its due proportions, and Bloch applies this temporally as well as spatially. The recent past is inevitably both contentious and inconclusive, and his slippage between ‘blind’ and ‘mute’ demonstrates the two-stage nature of the challenge of writing contemporary history. In the midst of events, it is difficult to see clearly; even if you can, seeing is not commensurate with expression. The sheer volume of experiential knowledge, existing in living memories, makes the landscape of the recent past irreducibly multiple and difficult to distil into a monolithic historical narrative.