Saturday, October 11, 2008

History

I started reading the first novel I've read since I got my first Blackberry. I picked it up at the airport on the way to a transit conference in San Diego last week. The book title is Lost and it's by American author Gregory Maguire. It's about a female author who is the descendant of a man Charles Dickens may have used as the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. She travels to England to stay at the house of her semi infamous relative and encounters what could be the ghost of Jack the Ripper.

The bizarre plot and the thought of a two and a half hour flight in coach convinced me to buy the book and turn off my Blackberry. It turned out to be well written, but a bit confusing at times. But once I got used to the author's quirky literary style, I was drawn in.

But this post isn't really a review of the book. It is about something one of the characters in the book, a history professor, said. He said that he tried not to teach history as about people like us who lived at a different time, but as a lesson that human psychology has changed with each passing decade.

This may seem like a minor thing, but for me it prompted an epiphany. I doubt the author intended it as the point of the novel, but it really made me think. Because it alters the way you view the past...or at least the distant past. It explains why books like Moby Dick, although classics, are basically incomprehensible to most of the poor schmucks who have to read them in literature classes. Because if you read books written a hundred or two hundred years ago with a contemporary mindset, you can't possible understand what the author was talking about it. Not only are you from different times, you are from different worlds.

I read Moby Dick on my own outside of any literature class and found it amazing.

Amazingly boring that is. I didn't have a clue what Melville was going on about despite the extensive footnotes in the edition I read. I know there was a white whale who ate a Captain Ahab's leg and he was really pissed off about it. Oh, and there was a Starbucks, but I don't think they served lattes. I have to confess I gleaned most of even these vague impressions about the book from a 1950s film based loosely on the novel.

You see, the language, the thinking processes, the morals of Melville's time make it read like a foreign language despite the fact it was English. I believe the white whale in the book is supposed to be a religious allegory of sorts. That is based on the footnotes. So I suppose in Melville's times, white whales were very religious. Or they worshipped whales. I suppose they blubbered a lot in church. Ha, ha.

See what I mean? Thinking changes along with generations.

God knows what people will think about a Steven King novel a hundred years from now.

Or my blog.

And here I thought I was timeless. Or was that clueless?
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