Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quotes of the Day

Both come from William Cronon's "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative," The Journal of American History (March 1992): 1347-1376.

p.1373: Historians do not tell stories by themselves.  We write as members of communities, and we cannot help but take those communities into account as we do our work.  Being American, being male, being white, being an upper-middle-class academic, being an environmentalist, I write in particular ways that are not all of my own choosing, and my biases are reflected in my work.  But being a scholar, I write also for a community of other scholars--some very different from me in their backgrounds and biases--who know nearly as much about my subject as I do.  They are in a position instantly to remind me of the excluded facts and wrong-headed interpretations that my own bias, self-delusion, and lack of diligence have kept me from acknowledging.  The stories we write, in other words, are judged not just as narrative, but as nonfictions.

p. 1374: But the meaning of my story about stories also reflects that other, more personal, narrative, the one about my struggle to accommodate the lessons of critical theory without giving in to relativism....If postmodernism is correct in arguing that narrative devices are deeply present even in such a field as environmental history, which takes for its subject the least human and least storied worlds--nature--must we then accept that the past is infinitely malleable, thereby apparently undermining the entire historical project?  Given my biases, the answer to this question has got to be no, and so my story has worked its way toward an ending about the ultimate justification of history in community, past reality, and nature itself.  For me, there is something profoundly unsatisfying and ultimately self-deluding about an endless postmodernist deconstruction of texts that fails to ground itself in history, in community, in politics, and finally in the moral problem of living one earth. Against it, I would assert the virtues of narrative as our best and most compelling tool for searching out meaning in a conflicted and contradictory world.