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Fakten und Interpretation April 15, 2006

Posted by The Truth in WARNING: Heavy Reading Ahead.
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WARNING: HEAVY READING AHEAD. May cause indigestion, migrane, heart palpitations, unhealthy philosophical reflection, mental instability, drowsiness (DO NOT DRIVE OR OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY) or tired dry eyes. But you’re a champion if you try to understand it.

More on history! Hah. If you actually paid attention bothered to read the posts in this particular group, you'd probably know more or less where this is going to go. It's that question of 'are there real facts or is history pure interpretation?' Because, you see, historians (and many others whose vocations are those of discourse) are not just content to take an outsider's disinterested view on facts per se…you see, when exactly World War I broke out in 1914 isn't as important as the significance of it.

You see, that's a big problem with not just historical texts, but with many other texts today (be it literature, philosophy, anthropology, et cetera) : The interpretative dimension, when past facts, words, sayings and beliefs are translated (here, made meaningful) into today's context. We can't find out for sure what exactly happened, or we can't know for sure what it meant then, could we? So these texts have significance and relevance for the modern reader only because they have been worked through and reworked by those who profess to be experts in the area.

I suppose that personally, this is inevitable. Not that it's bad, because in a sense, we're taking an outsider's view into what happened then, from which we can draw our own inferences and learn from the mistakes of the era (if indeed they were considered mistakes then.) Any fool can learn from his own mistakes, but only a wise man will learn from the mistakes of others, or so the general thought is. I guess this is particularly predominant in an area such as history or anthropology, which busies itself with facts. In other areas, theories and ideas were passed down, although we cannot say for sure that they have degraded in their significance or meanings, can we? The historical Socrates and his theories must have certainly varied somewhat from the philosophies of the Platonic Socrates…and that is because of Plato's interpretations.

Because this interpretation is inevitable but difficult to stomach, some historians have suggested the existence of a central body of facts, from which interpretation is performed only at the very rim of. What he means is that because of the historian's perspective, interpretations can be represented by say, The Left and The Right. At the centre of this spectrum lies the acknowledged central body of facts – a balance of sorts, since the interpretations are drawn from there. That centre, according to most historians, is what students of History should focus on – not what the historians say.

All fine and good, but all history was written by someone, non?

Taking this one level higher about this Left-and-Right theory, we can never know if this central body of facts is actually 100% factually correct, will we? Whoever is in power certainly has the will and authority to mangle history to his ends, and once the full histeriographic dimension develops, one can see that this central body isn't the centre of much. In fact, it is just some point of a spectrum of facts, mangled and twisted by various agencies into a multitude of truths.

A small example would be WWII in Asia. Japan's truth is definitely different from the truths of China, Korea, South-East Asia, which will have small differences amongst themselves. Local patterns of dominance and marginalisation are at work here. Will a dominant power admit that their country was wrong? I don't think many Americans would admit that they lost the Vietnam War.

So what should we study? Should we build a time machine and return to the past and try to understand the past as it was (which i doubt will be successful) or should we dedicate ourselves to a broad study of many histeriographies of a particular period of time, in order to make our own references and at the same time, gain perspectives which you might never have seen?

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