Archive for May 31, 2011

“All the Kings Men” and other thoughts on History

Watched the movie “All the Kings Men” starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Sean Penn and Kate Winslet. We thought it should have won some Oscar awards from the Academy, but they didn’t pocket any back in 2006 when it first came out.  However, the author of “All the Kings Men” was awarded a Pulitzer in literature, Sean Penn Warren for this tail spinning novel.  The actors’ performances of the fictionalized character brought out the real life of Louisiana politician Huey Long and those people who were affected by him and his outrageous politics in the early 1930s.

“All the Kings Men” reminded me of the movie I watched years ago that was based on newspaper giant Hearst, Citizen Kane, but that’s another blog.  For now I am struck by quotes about history and the retelling of true historical facts that come out differently once authors get a hold of the rich material that is out there to mine.  Lately I’ve been reading through my Ukrainian students’ stories about their grandparents and ran across this quote that a student used and am trying to make sense of it.

“To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity.”  Roy P. Basler

I’m not sure what Basler meant by this because to my mind “truth” and “ultimate myth” don’t go together.  I’m not so good with dealing with ambiguity since I like things black and white.  Napolean was known to have said something similar:  “History is a myth that men agree to believe.” So Robert Penn Warren got a Pulitzer prize in literature but in poetry as well. Noone else has accomplished this honor but watching the movie about the Kingfisher seemed to show poetic justice in the end.  I’ll need to read the original book written by Warren to see how closely the movie followed the original score.

“Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.” by Robert Penn Warren

I can understand this quote by Robert Penn Warren when he says this:  “The past is always a rebuke to the present.” This follows closer to what I think and what Agatha, a Ukrainian student of mine wrote, perhaps a translation from Russian or Ukrainian language:

Old wine is tastier,

Old remains – more valuable

Old runner is more experienced,

And old scientist is wiser…

I suppose Oscar Wilde has it right when he is known to have penned:

Any fool can make history,

But it takes a genius to write it.

The following quote credited to someone is a bit more my speed, “Information is nothing without proper interpretation” as I plod through all the stories written by my former Ukrainian students about their grandparents.  Sobering and it fits with this anonymous quote: “History must be written of, by and for the survivors.”

That’s why I keep blogging so that people can be aware of what happened in the Soviet Union’s past. It wasn’t pretty and quite different from what most dishonest historians in today’s universities would have their impressionable students believe. I would agree closest to this quote attributed to Kenneth Stampp about history for having lived in Ukraine and Kazakhstan for a total of ten years. “With the historian it is an article of faith that knowledge of the past is a key to understanding the present.”
Instructive to know what happened in the past and not to let the victors always tell their version, the victims who seemingly have been silenced have a different take on what really happened.

I’ll end with this last quote by Robert Penn Warren: “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.

 

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