Category Archives: History

The University of Utah

6-957758-1You scattered few of my readers, thank you for checking back at The Blahrg.com.  You alone have noticed I have been away for several months.  Where you might ask?  Graduating from that religious institution known as Brigham Young University.  Yes, I am a college graduate.  And not an Honors Thesis too soon.  How great it feels to be done, and to be free of the dogmatic fetters I have known so long.  Am I grateful to my alma mater?   Of course!  BYU has given me so many intellectual experiences, they are uncountable.  I would be selfish should I not express my sincere thanks.  Yet I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief to finally move on and embrace new challenges.  Onward, and forward I say (tongue in cheek).

I have also been busy getting accepted to medical school.  I was accepted at several gracious and respectable institutions, the pinnacle being University of Utah Medical School, where I will be attending.  I am extremely excited to be at such a fine institution, and to be close to home, and to not pay over $40,000 a year in t

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uition (although my own dues will barely be less than that, unfortunately).  No matter, I am on my way to medicine.  Funnily enough, I was recently declined health insurance for the pettiest of reasons, and I find great irony that as a legitimate medical student I cannot get private health insurance.  Go Obamacare, go.

So thanks again for your patience, stalwart readers.  The few of you have more blahrgs to look forward to again
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The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Why a bridge of faith?Hemingway has quickly become one of my favorite writers.  His terse prose is appealing to me, as he writes simply the events that take place as his narrator encounters them.  His characters are believable, which makes the dialogue between them clever, funny, and, at times, poignant.

This book, The Sun Also Rises, is in part an unrequited love story, and at the same time much more than that.  It is about the disenchanted lives of a group of young Americans after the first World War.  Jake, the protagonist, injured from his stint in the military, is haplessly in love with the frivolous Lady Ashley, who plays on Jake’s feelings for her by taking advantage of him time and time again.  Their group of friends decide to take a trip to Spain to watch the bull fights at Pamplona.  Most of the story unfolds around their witnessing of the bull fights, their dinners and lunches throughout the festival, and their drunken revelations as they face their vulnerabilities.

Mostly, I loved the dialogue in this book.  If only I were a writer and could be as cunning as one of Hemingway’s characters.  At one point, Ashley has brought up a count to Jake’s room.  As they drink an expensive bottle of wine, Jakes says to the count, “You ought to write a book on wines, count.”  The count replies, “Mr. Barnes, all I want out of wines is to enjoy them.”  At once, the importance of living in the moment is brought home.  It rings true both to the reader as an applicable bit of advice, and to a man whose generation was forced to live in the moment because of a deadly, revolutionary war.  Many of the discussions throughout the book between the characters allow a gentle sadness to seep though the words.  As another example, while in Pamplona, Jake enjoys the banter between his drunk friends and thinks to himself as the night draws to a close:  “It was like certain dinners I remember from the war.  There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a felling of things coming that you could not prevent happening.  Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy.  It seemed they were all such nice people.”   Of course Jake spoke of the bull fights and his disgust for some of the more brass comments made at dinner, but he alludes to the war outright, and the sadness he feels is made overt ever so subtly.

Why a bridge of faith?This sadness, expressed by almost every character, is the inevitable outcome of every action throughout the book.  There is no fulfillment, even in the partying by Jake and his friends.  The most calming sequence of events takes place as Jake fishes with one of of his friends before getting to Spain.  The several days they spend out on the water evokes a nostalgic feeling, but again the sadness is ever present as the reader realizes it will soon come to an end.  It is a reminder that no matter where enjoyment is attained, it soon comes to an end.  All things die, including happiness.

Whether or not you agree with the motifs presented in the book is irrelevant.  All things end; there can be no evading the inevitable.

On and Again

Sadness

 I wrote this while listening to Arvo Part’s Spiegel Im Spiegel.  It’s a beautiful minimalist piece, one of many that the Polish composer has written.  Part has composed many religious chorals and symphonies that are all incredibly beautiful.  I recommend reading about him here.  I don’t claim to be  a great poet, but I felt something when I wrote this.  

 

 

 

[audio:mirrors.mp3 | titles= spiegel im spiegel | artists=arvo part]

 

 

I carry you

Whe’er I go

Footsteps remain

In my soul
two hearts beat
But silence yet

Perfect notes
Make us feel
much more than this

It will pass
A soft breath
A flutt’ring breeze

On again
But for now
On and again.

We say words
Others said
Before them, too.

Our hands cupped
give us more
surely for us.

Changing keys
like seconds
On and again.

No legacy,
Memory,
Only Footprints.

Watch me go
I am gone
there. I am gone.

Two hearts beat
and then one
On and again.

One heart beats
Then it’s gone.
On and again.

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America, America

clipart_flagd_21Music blares from the truck radio, falling out of the driver’s seat and into the cool night.  Between the army blankets and sagging lawn chairs we sit in a strip mall parking lot, looking up at the pale night sky; a background beyond the city lights.  Off in the distance rockets burst, flares explode, and sparks shower and echo out of the dark blue.  The colors are sharp and titillating dancing before us.  Ghosts from the past repeat hallowed words from our History:  President Kennedy:  “We choose these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  President Roosevelt:  “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.”  Mr. Armstrong:  “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  A BBC Broadcaster:  “Today, two planes descended on New York and crashed into the World Trade Center.”  President Jefferson:  “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”  President Kennedy:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Mr. Kronkite:  “Today, the United States President John F. Kennedy was shot.”  Dad leans toward me and whispers into my ear, “I remember that day, where I was, what I was doing, as if it were yesterday.”  I look at him.  I just look into his eyes.  

The sky reverbrates, and so do our hearts.   No lives have ever gone before that have been given so much.  No price so high has ever been paid to secure their bounties.  We continue listening and watching the vibrant display.  Red streaks downward like bloody stripes.  White sparkles outward like new constellations born into the sky.  Blue showers erupt upwards, like a roaring, majestic waterfall.  Up in the sky we see the symbol of our freedom, justice and liberty.  It proudly waves down upon us.

We stayed until the very end.  Every second we relished, like we should relish every second we are free.  By God or by man, America is nothing less than a miracle.  

 

abraham-lincoln-2Abraham Lincoln:  “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  -The Gettysburg Address

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A Solution to the Postmodern Problem

For awhPostmodernism coalesces!ile I have been a bit disillusioned by the problem posed by Postmodernism.  Postmodernism is “The Death of the Author,” according to Roland Barthes and many other intellectuals.  It is the disregard for the thoughts, politics, events, cultures, and ideas of the past that brings us the documents and artistic works we regard today, and their replacement by the current interpretations of the texts and works themselves.  Thus the only importance that is imbued upon the past is what can be reasoned out of the work itself, using tools like Deconstructionism.   No matter what tools or interpretations are used, every body of knowledge heretofore reasoned through and discovered falls under the ever-reaching shadow of relativism.  

One Historian fights back using Postmodernism’s own tools.  William Cronon, a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, and Yale, and current professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote an enlightening article that brings all historians to the dark precipice, and carefully directs them along the edge back to safer grounds.  In Nature, History, and Narrative, Cronon uses four examples of ecological history, specifically the famine of the Great Plains, and shows how each historian takes the unarguable facts and events and shapes them into separate, unique narratives.  Each narrative couches the Great Plains with a different beginning, middle, and end to the story.  They all are accurate, and yet their accounts present sometimes conflicting views.  Thus, even the craft of History falls fully into subjectivity.  

But Cronon sees this not as the last stand against Postmodernism.  Instead, he reminds us that narrative and the storytelling tradition of human beings has existed since we first developed self-awareness.  This need to tell stories is so vital to our understanding and progression that it takes precedence over mere chronology of fact, since stories are how we tease out meaning from the events and circumstances around us.  Are those meanings subjective?  Of course they are, but in each new narrative a new meaning casts more light on the same events, bringing us more and more useful knowledge.  It is up to us to construct a meaningful story out of “facts”, and where we choose to begin and eventually end a story elicits meaning that is most important to us.  

There is no greater answer to a problem that foretells a catastrophic end to knowledge as we have known it.  Instead of avoiding postmodernism, we embrace it.  Instead of avoiding subjectivity, we revere it.  

An interesting blog from which I borrowed this great photo is called the slanted penguin.  The author deals with current, philosophical questions much like myself!  check it out!

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The historical novel: Can fiction be just as valuable as non-fiction?

Mkay, here we go. The pictures are by request by family, but I must say I do look smart in those preppy clothes (smart as in both intelligent as well as well dressed:).

What does any written work try to do? It tries to communicate some point to the mind of another, correct? In doing so, a transient idea takes shape in an individual mind, reconstructed from the tools found in that individual’s “garage” so to speak. With this metaphor, it makes sense then that my hammers and screwdrivers may be of a different size and shape then yours, and also the image in your mind most likely is completely different from the image in mine. This is the nature of the generality of words. Some word is really a symbol that stands for some idea, and that word then is defined by the thoughts in an individual’s mind. When I write the word “television”, do you think of a plasma screen? A black and white turn-knob? Do you think of a large projection screen? The word television which seems to denote a specific thought in reality communicates a separate idea to each individual’s mind.

Now place that thought on the stove and let it simmer, and let us now prepare the salad of this philosophical entree.

What does a man (or woman) truly know? Honestly, what do you truly know? I would contest that we really only know what we experience first hand. What I have experienced, that I know. Yet because of the nature of memory, even what I have experienced firsthand can shift from what actually happened, to what we perceive happened. This can be due to our own creative reconstruction, anxiety, pride, guilt, or motivation. Thus, a memory becomes altered. Many studies have been done on the topic of false memories, or things we believe to be true that actually were not. I have experienced this myself, as I believe we all have to some extent, even if we don’t know it.

You might say, “No, that’s not true, we can know what we read about and what we see on television.” Yet this is where the idea of history becomes less rigid. What we read, like we talked about earlier, creates an image in our mind. That is what we envision. It is real to us in our own mind, and that is all. Beyond this, there is no delineation between what is real and what is not. What you imagine in your mind from a non-fiction work is a reconstruction using your own tools and your own thoughts, but in all likelihood is very far removed from the actual events that took place, even if those events were documented specifically and accurately. What we see on TV may portray specific people and images to us, but we cannot say that it is not a re-enactment of the actual events, nor can we say that the context certain spliced images on the news are given to us in the correct context. We didn’t experience it. In this case, a narrative is constructed by a network and given to us as fact, much like a non-fiction work. Yet because we did not experience it first hand, we cannot say it is truly accurate, and even if we did experience it, we cannot really say that our own memory of it is accurate except for the very moment we experience it.

Thus, is there a way to distinguish between a factual history of truth, and one of imagination and fabrication?

Here comes in the law of probability, as well as the notion of creativity. It would be well to argue that most good historians use primary documents to reconstruct history. This is based on the idea that a primary document purports a certain event in a correct way, and that its author is a credible witness to the events. Yes. We accept that because we have a cultural tradition of honesty, and most of the time what is written in the form of letters, documents, memos, etc. can be accepted as being factual. But can we TRULY KNOW this? No, we cannot. As well, there are a body of primary documents and witnesses that a historian takes and studies, but how does one make sense of it all? The historian in some way must construct either some type of narrative, giving an end point to a chain of events, or he (she) merely re-records the data with no type of organization. As a historian, I would say that the latter is never done, since this would basically be copying the primary documents in question. Instead, the “facts”, or documents and facts they portray, are somehow organized for a purpose. As we said before, every writer has some purpose. This organization requires creativity.

Creativity, then, in many ways is labeled the antithesis of a true historian, since by being creative, one must at some point be imaginative, and if one is imaginative, then one is straying from the documented “facts” of which a true historian would stick to and allow those “facts” to speak for themselves. While many historians contend that this is what they do, they are in fact using creativity to do just that. Facts have no meaning in and of themselves. Causality cannot be found in facts. The cause of WWII is not found in facts. It is derived from a certain chronology of events, meaning is assigned, and a narrative is constructed, however elaborate, complex, and heterogenous it may be.

What difference then exists between a “factual” historian, and a historian who embellishes, even fabricates details that are plausible within the “factual” framework? If my argument is even somewhat cogent, then we can contend there is almost no difference between the traditional historian and the literary historian. Let me give some examples as well as certain persuasive reasons why they could be at least considered relevant to history, and then I will coalesce the examples with my main argument.

Thomas Fleming, a novelist as well as academic historian, wrote a book entitled Time and Tide about a fictional group of characters based on the USS Thomas Jefferson (also fictional) during World War II. He contends amid criticism of his fabrication of details that his work is highly factual, and though he does use fiction to fill in the blanks, as well as enliven the story, many important historical questions and answers are raised by his work that would have not been brought to the surface otherwise. Real topics such as religious faith in the Navy during World War II, the authoritative nature of the government and navy, as well as absence of ideology of the average seaman are addressed, which are real and important.

Howard Fast, the writer of numerous revolutionary war novels, may not be considered by historians at all as credible, yet his work reached more people than many historians combined. Again, he brings important themes, mainly the reality of injustice among citizens of America, to the forefront. His work was largely based not on factual research but on hunches and imagination. Without the context of my argument which I will argue trenchantly in a moment, this may seem a blatant example of how this fiction cannot be considered credible history. Again I ask you to postpone judgement.

Most classic historians are considered to be quite factual. This is relatively true. However, several examples can show us how even classic and traditional historians base many of their findings on creative and imaginative grounds. Heroditus for example, the “father of history”, begins his history citing myth and oral tradition, which was definitely not factual. Polybius, who considered himself the opposite of Embellishers like Heroditus, still constructed his history to tell a monographic tale of how Rome became the triumphant achievement of human civilization. Eusubius did the same, retelling early christian history to reinforce the catholic dogmas agreed upon at the Council of Nicea.

Even one of the most revered historical accounts in all of humanity, the holy bible, gives way to historical and scientific scrutiny. The Hebrew scriptures, or first books of the Old Testament are “immensely heterogeneous, comprising various genres of ancient literature: creation myth, national epic, wisdom literature, genealogies, and king lists, songs and prayers, laws and detailed ritual prescriptions, prophecy, and protracted warnings of divine wrath, often clothed in symbolism, though without the oracular sites prominent in the hellenistic world.” (Burrows, A History of Histories). Most may not consider the bible as fully accurate, but do we consider much of the bible as not only symbolic, but also mythical? The point is to question what we truly consider as “Fact”. The point is, to question what we “know”. (Though I do tend to wander religious realms with my blogs, there is no implied argument against or for religion here. The bible is just a great example of the overlying point I’m trying to communicate).

Now, lets tie all of this together. Hopefully the examples overtly demonstrate that “fact” is transient. No matter what is written or portrayed to us, it cannot be known by us. Each work, whether academic or creative, involves some form of creativity in the first place. Then, it is communicated to each individual’s mind with generic symbols (words and phrases), to create a transient portrayal in each person’s mind. This image that exists in the mind can in know way be relied upon as any depiction of what really happened. It may have happened that way, it may not have. Who is to say what a creative writer portrays may or may not have happened? Just because a traditional historian reconstructs history according to primary sources does not 1. give those sources credibility in and of themselves, and 2. whatever point is made by that historian involved his own creative faculties, and though the law of probability does give him (or her) credence, it does not make it reality.

Finally, even what one experiences cannot be truly “known” because of the nature of memory. Therefore, only the present thoughts and ideas are really known, since they exist in the mind currently. Thus, if something from a nonfiction work is communicated to the mind, it exists in the mind as real or “fact” for that moment. In the same way, if a fictional work creates just as vivid an image in the mind as a nonfiction work, then it can be said to be real or “fact” for that moment as well, since beyond the present moment, nothing can truly be known. Does this make sense? Or am I just off my rocker?

I am very interested to hear your takes on this idea, so please feel free to comment. Or, if you skipped to the end of this after looking at the pictures, I encourage you to read this and form your own opinion. Cheers!

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Jonestown and how its postmodern

Jonestown documents the massacre of over 900 people in one day at a small religious community cut in Guyana. Founded by Jim Jones, the religious community began in Indianapolis, Indiana in the 1950’s and eventually moved to San Francisco to support itself. Jones was charismatic and persuasive, and combined his liberal civil rights views with his religious preachings to create a powerful yet controlled fanaticism that did much good, but eventually became catastrophic.
Several elements reflect Postmodern thought. The first of which is the actual subject material: the rise and fall of the community called the Peoples Temple. Jones made it clear that he was setting himself up to people as whatever they wanted him to be. If they wanted a leader, it was him. If they wanted a friend, it was him. If they wanted a God, it was him. He took away the God of religion and set himself in its place. Postmodern thought is known for its refusal to acknowledge the artist or author’s meaning or reasons for creating a work of art or literature, and instead rests with the viewer or reader. The same with religion. There was no christianity for people here, but if they wanted religion they could read whatever they wanted into Jones’s organization, and that was true to them. They could see him as a prophet if they chose. Unfortunately, that was exactly what he wanted.
There was also a definite breakaway from civil and social norms. Modernism had helped create the social sciences, even some that weren’t in practice anymore. Eugenics and sciences dealing with race helped foster in America a strong racism that was rampant during the sixties and seventies. Jones and his followers broke from any type of racist notions and considered all people equal, which was a true form of free thought at the time. It definitely broke from the modernist social sciences and those who used it to propagate racism. Most of Jones’s followers eventually left the United States to form a separate community in Guyana. They weren’t going to accept even America’s laws or social traditions, but instead create their own. They redefined culture and society to what they felt was true and applicable to them.
The actual documentary is also postmodern. There is little if any narration. It is all a splicing of different eyewitnesses and participators who tell their story. A new story is created from this splicing, which is how the viewer gets their own interpretation. The director, producer, and makers of the film had no say, and they let the work express meaning to the viewer alone. This is a postmodern way of presentation.
However, we also see that there is a brooding score, which helps with emotional buildup and draws the viewer in. There definitely is a purpose with the documentary, and it wasn’t just to inform, but also in a way to entertain. Postmodernists are concerned with consumerism and mass marketing products. Creating an interesting and intense documentary is a way to turn a tragedy into a product that can be enjoyed for entertainment, much like movies that make use of War material or Holocaust material for the same purpose. It is an interesting and controversial way to entertain people, yet most modern consumers eat up any type of movie, book, or song that is packaged the right way, no matter what the subject matter is.
Jonestown is an interesting adaptation of Post-Modern thought.

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