[Introduction] Understanding the present through the past and the past through the present

Cook, James; Kolassa, Alexander and Whittaker, Adam (2018). [Introduction] Understanding the present through the past and the past through the present. In: Kolassa, Alexander; Cook, James and Whittaker, Adam eds. Recomposing the Past: Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen. Ashgate Screen Music Series. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 1–14.

URL: https://www.routledge.com/Recomposing-the-Past-Rep...


History, like culture, has (to borrow from Clifford Geertz) a fictive quality. It is '"something made," "something fashioned"' : fictio in its true sense (Geertz, 1973, p.15). We may therefore speak of the historical past not simply as the transparent record of events but as a constructed narrative of documents whose voices have since fallen silent. As Foucault notes, "history is one way in which a society recognises and develops a mass of documentation with which it is inextricably linked" (1972, p.7). This notion has far reaching implications, and not simply for history as documentary. Those heteroglossic narratives which develop as history is lived, told, and continuously retold are - and have always been - the site from which new narratives spring, conditioned and coloured by the perspectives and technologies of the age. Such a process can be traced throught much of recorded history; mythology, storytelling in all its forms, and academic enquiry or polemic all draw upon canons of received knowledge, but to what end? History is the lens through which the ever changing developments of the present day can be understood: we see the present most fully in the absence of the past.

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