Wednesday, May 10, 2006

David Fromkin

"1922" was a crucial historical "nodule" ...

There’s too much information out there. Better to stick to a few areas, and among them to a few themes, and then, alright, be thorough, be deep.

Malinka liked my “nodules” concept for a crash course on world history and wants me to elaborate on that. I longed for a similar request from the Right Honourable Reader but to no avail.

To acquire historical knowledge from A to Z is rather tiresome if not physically impossible (considering the average life expectancy of the Homo sapiens). Instead of starting with the Neanderthal, progressing to Oriental and Classical Antiquity, and from there to the European heirs of Rome until this day and age of evil-axis metaphors and near-non-Nonproliferators an alternative methodology might be on order. Less time-consuming and, intellectually-speaking, much more rewarding.

All bores quote themselves and I will have to conform with norm: “I believe in a kind of 'quanta' or Darwinian evolutionary History. More important than a slow chronological flux are some crucial "nodules". I mean by that historical short periods which have critical mass of data, revolutionary energy and political "pathos" (either drama or tragic-comedy) enough to carry us - in a quantum-like leap - into new times.”

I have also bored stiff the Right Honourable Reader enough times already with some of my favourite A-list “nodules”. A good example is the Russian Revolution one, which I could label, to simplify, “1917”. If one tries hard to understand “1917” almost every single political development in XX Century, from Marx to Fukuyama, becomes intelligible. Worth some studying then.

What other “nodules” in the Rosary of History are worth a particular investment, bearing in mind one’s scarce resources of Time, Intelligence and energy? As it is impossible to achieve wisdom on every significant crossroad of the History of men, each one of us chooses personally a couple of “nodules” to occupy his free moments of an otherwise full-agenda hyper-busy day-to-day life.

Those choices are sometimes dictated by professional interest. When I was trying to figure out, while watching successive sunsets in Jaffa, what was the Israeli-Arab conflict all about, I had to concentrate in “1922” (the Versailles arrangement for a semi post-colonial Middle East). For that Professor Fromkin's book (depicted above) was outstanding. I obviously had also to dive into “1948-69-73" and in “1956” too (yes, the demise of British Imperial Power in Suez is a nodule worth studying.. ).

Some times our choices are just guided by our patriotic personal inclinations. A Christian, in a way, is always returning to the nodule “1 to 33 A.D.”.. A French nostalgic of Napoleonic Imperial Grandeur to “1812” – and to achieve full understanding of Waterloo he will have to end up, as all Frenchmen do, in “1789”.. In the westernmost Peninsula of Europe where I was born, “1492” and “1500, plus or minus a couple of decades” are still obsessively revisited.

Some choices for “nodular” historical research are biography-led, though. As I blogged about recently (boring self-quoting activity again): “In each “nodule” there are illuminating biographical case-studies. Among these particular revealing biographies, as code-breakers to certain periods of history, I’ve always had a fascination for gentlemen who incurred in many risks to protect their individual freedoms and beliefs (…) “ . What produces a Free Spirit? What is so precious about Individual Freedom that turns the rise of Freedom in Society into an almost secondary phenomenon? What makes one admire an atheist among a bigot religious society, or a believer in an atheistic regime, more than the glorious struggle of the Masses? Why would one rather fall for Casanova than for Marx? Why will one always tend to prefer Pasternak to Gorky? And what contributes more to the loosen up of strict hypocritical sexual morals, a rebellious serial seducer like Lord Rochester or the Kinsley Report?

- Will this do, Madam?

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