Thursday, December 6, 2007

Some scattered thoughts on memory/history and the inevitable [dis]advantage of hindsight?

Yesterday I had my meeting with Yvonne Rainer and it just made me realize how unreliable our memories are. I was asking her questions about a summer workshop that she attended over 40 years ago. Of course it is natural that memory fades and I should have been prepared for this. But with all of the research that I have done I feel like I can close my eyes and imagine what it was like back then. It seems that at this moment in time my historical memory is stronger than Yvonne's.

But then again my historical memory is really another's, because everything I have learned about that time period has mostly been through the compilations that a number of other historians have put together. And one thing that became really clear from talking to Yvonne is that historians, like everyone else, have their own agendas. In some ways what Yvonne did remember was very different from what I have read.

I know that these thoughts are not really lucid at all, and I apologize for that, but the interview yesterday really got me thinking about my own agenda as I write this history. It is clear to me that I have one, so I guess I need to be wary that when I incorporate the facts into my analysis I should take everything that I have learned in my research and weigh it equally.

Is it surprising that Yvonne would consider Ann Halprin's 1960s work on the west coast less conceptual and less intellectual than the work on the east coast? Not really, even primary sources have their own agendas. As SS explained to me early on, all of these people have their own public persona to protect. And I, as a historian, have an argument to make, so therefore we are all coming to the table fully disadvantaged.

So I guess I will conclude with questions rather than answers today. One of my advisors kept pushing the importance of interviews as primary sources, and I understand the importance of this to some degree. But how can we compensate for flawed memories? for personal agendas? for the inevitable effect of hindsight?

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