Monday, January 14, 2013

Understanding history for a post modernist point of view

What is history?

  • How so we know the past?
  • How do we make sense of it?
  • Traditional response is to make stories about it
    • E.g. historical fiction, history textbooks
  • Yes, the past once existed
  • We learn about it through documents and other artifacts that have been left behind
    • Traces of the past
    • Based on those
  • We construct or reconstruct the past
History vs. Truth
  • What is fact?
  • What is truth?
  • Who decides?
    • Not easy to decide from post-modern
  • Novel, 1984
    • Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth
    • Rewrites history to reflect current view
  • Now have technology to manipulate pictures as well
  • Is there a single meaning to the past?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • Different people see things in different ways
    • E.g. Five blind men and an elephant
Billy the Kid
  • Book is not about the real Billy the Kid
  • MO exposed to American popular culture after WWWII
    • Movies with Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry
    • Read American comic books
  • Became fascinated with Billy by the age of eight
    • Legend and truth woven together
  • In late 1960’s, discovered a series of paintings about Ned Kelly
    • Read books, newspaper articles, Royal Commission Report
    • Listened to recorded ballads about Kelly’s exploits
  • Showed author how he might create his own picture
  • Had already written some poems using Billy’s voice
  • Legend of Billy emerged
    • With his memories of playing Cowboys and Indians as a child
  • Wrote the book over two years
    • Took another year to edit and rearrange the manuscript
  • Never interested in the real Billy
  • Instead, saw him as an alter ego
  • Author looked for links between
    • Mythology
    • History
    • Biography
  • Created a collage of photographs, lyrics, ballads, short prose pieces, interviews, tall tales and found poems
Putting the book together
  • The photographs and layout of the book
    • Two important elements
  • Many of the photographs staged
    • Used family and friends
  • Worked with an editor
    • Dennis Lee
The Real Billy the Kid
  • Born New York City
    • November 23, 1859
  • Real name: Henry McCarthy
    • Mother remarried William H. Antrim
    • 1873
    • Source of alias?
  • Moved to New Mexico
  • Used William H. Bonney as an alias
  • Committed first murder
    • At the age of 12
    • Knifed a man who insulted his mother
  • By 18 years of age
    • Charged with 12 murders
  • Captured and sentenced to death
    • After his gang killed a sheriff and deputy
  • Escaped by killing two guards
  • Eventually trapped and shot to death
    • By former friend, Pat Garrett
How the author plays with traditional conventions
  • Who was Billy the Kid?
  • Facts? Myth or fiction?
  • MO used some post modern techniques
Post modern literature: some characteristics
As readers we think historical fiction authors have done their research
  • Questions role of author
    • One single, authorial voice
    • Who decides that work has one single meaning
      • Meaning of work is not fixed
  • Shifting point of view
    • Other voices include
    • Pat Garrett
    • Paulita Maxwell
    • Sally Chishum
  • Mostly Billy’s voice but
    • He is killed on page 6
      • His list of dead includes himself
      • So is the book written after he is dead?
Discontinuous narrative
  • Storyline does not proceed in a linear fashion
  • “television” writing
    • In fragments
    • In present tense
  • Has a cinematic feeling to it
Other techniques
  • Paradox
    • Billy
      • “gentleman”
    • Pat Garnett
      • “sane assassin”
      • “sociopath”
  • Layering
    • How many times is Billy’s death mentioned throughout the story?
      • Building on death, may feel like travelling in circles
  • Makes writing feel dense
    • Used a variety of sources
    • To recombine elements of the past
    • To create a new work of art

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