Monday, September 03, 2007

Reading for "Theory"

In order to earn a BA degree in History from USF, one must take a particular exit requirement class called "Theory of History" or more commonly referred to simply as "Theory."

The reading for this week is very introductory, but interesting nonetheless, the first four chapters of History: A Very Short Introduction by John H. Arnold. In reading these chapters, I've begun to suspect two things.

* One, at best, I'm pretty sure I'm an antiquarian and not actually an historian because I like "mouldy and worme-eatern" things, but I don't like arguing so much about them because arguing gives me headaches and makes me sad...

* And two, I think the academic study of history is flawed in that it is so much a masculine study that it blinds itself to its own idiocy. (I realize that them is fightin' words, but I find all the academic bickering exhausting and more than somewhat overblown and unnecessary.) What do I mean by "masculine" study? Very simply that it is so overrun by the way a male brain works that it leaves no place for intuition and to what female thought would say, "well, duh!" For example, two of the competing notions from the Enlightenment of why history unfolds as it does: chance and Great Men (I realize that these concepts are now pretty passé, but I have something to say about it anyway, and it's my blog, so...)

The book details a hypothetical argument as to why chance was championed by some. But this example, that because some random person left home the day that Henry IV was assassinated stepping first with his right foot instead of his left caused Henry to die, is completely absurd. Anyone can see that it would be. I mean, really, hello.

The example given for the "Great Men" theory is a bit better, that Alexander the Great did all his great deeds because he was who he was. Well, I have a soft spot for Alexander. He's my boy, you see, so I will readily agree that he was all that and a bag of chips, but... Evenso, Great Men cannot become Great Men if the stage is not set just so... Consider if Alexander's mother were not as ambitious as she was, if his father were not as ambitious as he was, if his father were not as successful in his own campaigns, if Aristotle hadn't been his tutor, if a spear, sword or arrow had caught Alexander in an early battle, if Hephaestion had never existed... if Persia had not already been weakened by internal strife and corruption, well on its way to decay before Alexander was even born, if the southern cities of Greece had been able to resist the Macedonian army, if his father hadn't been held in Thebes as a youth, learning the military tactics necessary to develope his own army later in life... if a hundred thousand other things had gone "wrong," how different Alexander's life could have been, how different history would have turned out. Alexander could very easily have been just as his forebearers, a king of a barbarous collection of tribes on the fringes of Greece, or even, the dead son of Philip the Great, struck down young in an unfortuate battle over grazing lands. If the stage had not been set just so, Alexander never would have gone East, never would have expanded Greek control, etc. etc. and the entire world, at the very least, the entire Western world, would have turned out a much different place than we know it today.

This doesn't mean that I think everything is chance. I can honestly say that I've personally felt the hand of Fate more than once in my short life, so I know better than to say She doesn't exist. But I think, quite honestly, that trying to say everything is chance or everything is because "Great Men make it so through their own will" is oversimplifying reality in two different directions. A combination of the two works much better. Alexander had the ability, the talent and the will to go East into Persia and beyond, and Persia fell before him because it was primed to do so. With hindsight, I see it as everything having coallesced into an amazing sequence of events, not entirely chance, not entirely Alexander's will, but a stunning combination of the two so that the world could never be quite the same ever again.

It took generations for the chance vs. Great Men schools of thought to fall out of favor. That it took that long for something so obviously flawed to be questioned and replaced, makes me a bit sad.

And then, of course, I have to ask, why do we need to know the exact mechanism of why history unfolds as it does? It will continue to do so whether we know it or not, and when all is said and done, we can only come up with best guesses anyway. And who's to say that there is a mechanism at all to begin with that we can even look for and expect to find? So really, why ask that question... Aren't there way more questions out there that can be answered much more conceretely? I think questions like "what is the exact mechanism that directs the unfolding of history?" are very male questions to ask... in the same way I think philosophy is a very male preoccupation. It is my considered opinion at this time that men came up with philosophy and with chance vs. Great Men questions about history because they aren't busy enough, they don't have enough to do. Remember, it was people with a lot of free time on their hands who came up with philosophy and devoted their lives to academic study 1500 years ago, and that hasn't changed. It's still in societies where people generally don't have to worry about food, shelter or living to see the next year where this sort of thing is encouraged as being worthwhile - such as ours. Women in general, even most modern Western women who have a hell of a lot more time to idle than our ancestresses did, didn't and don't tend to ask such questions or come up with such egotistical, self-serving ideologies because we, as women, have shit to do (cause even in the US, the majority of women still have to work to take care of themselves, their kids and their home, but there are, of course, exceptions) and know better... I almost want to say that we're connected on a higher level that make such things moot and men are still wading through the mire trying to comprehend a tenth of what we do without a thought, but that's a theological/social debate that I don't feel like having... As I said -> shit to do. It's similar, I think, to why men of the past feared women and women's bodies, and in turn, by their dominance, made women fear themselves and their bodies as well. By our nature, as women, as female creatures, who menstruate, become pregnant, give birth, suckle, nurture, and feel everything, we're tied to the physical reality of existence (to the Earth, if you will) in ways that men, by their nature, can pretend to escape... in that escape, some have preoccupied themselves with the nonsense of philosophical ramblings and academic arguments... others, with NASCAR and the WWE. Both preoccupations have no *real* place in day-to-day living, but are transitory, fleeting and will soon change to something else. The fact that no one, men or women, can really escape our physical reality, frightened the male psyche at some point in the past to the point that any reminder of that was also feared and eventually seen as less worthy. Hence, the fear, subjugation and devaluation of female nature, and in this day, age and place - in 2007 in the United States - women who choose not to pursue a path outside of their home and away from their children are judged by society at large as less valuable than women who imitate the male model of attempted escape, even if imitating the male model makes them less happy with themselves and life in general. Likewise, certain occupations, such as farming, animal husbandry and traditional crafts are seen as less valuable, less prestigious by society at large than say being a stock broker, lawyer or politician.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this particular tangent, but I went nonetheless. And I have things to do, so I'm not going to think about it anymore just now, if ever... I still have hours of homework left to do. ::sighs:: So this is all theory and one I've come up with quite on the fly as I was reading this book, so if you yell at me about it, I might not respond well. It wouldn't surprise me if it's largely bullshit, but I don't like being yelled at.

Basically, from where I'm sitting right now, I'm about to get a degree in history and I'm not exactly sure I'm ever going to do a damn thing with it. I think I've become rather disenchanted. I'm already really tired of the way historians write about history, argue about history, and twist it to suit their own egos and purposes, and I'm really pretty sure that I don't want any part of that mess. It takes all the fun out of it for me and then what's the point? So as if this place weren't scary enough, graduating from college, I've got the uncertainty that I even want to go on academically in this field of study I've spent the last 4 years working on. ::grumble:: So I know I'll figure something out, but I'm really just so put off by it all at the moment that I'm frustrated and want to bitch. So I did... So that's what this all was, I think, me bitching in frustration...


ilana said...

Yup. You've got the bug. *nods sagely* Welcome to the club, dear, and may your membership in it be long and happy. ;)
And no, that's not a horrible picture! Horrible pictures are generally saved for such evils as the DMV. :P

Rachael said...

Thanks, Ilana... I still don't think it's a very good picture, but perhaps, not horrible... My DMV picture is truly horrible! This is true...

LOL! I'm not exactly sure what the club is and how I got here, but thanks for the warm welcome just the same.


Knittycat said...

Why, it's the "Antiquarians Who Moonlight as Historians, Or Something Like That" club. :D

Oh. I am SO pleased that Bill Moyers did a segment about Mountaintop Removal. If you get a chance, you might want to take a look. It's on, of course; I think you can watch it on the website if it's not something they broadcast down there. It's a touchy subject here, naturally, but mom was so moved by the segment that she cried. I suggested that they may need to change the name from "The Mountain State" to something else if things continue as they are.