Author Archives: ryanliu

Silencing the Past – Race Politics and Historiography

Professor Krause’s lecture had a heavy focus on the potential inaccuracies of historiography, and how silences are deliberately introduced to paint a portrait of the past that suits somebody’s agenda. His examples mostly dealt with race politics and the relationship between whites and blacks as a dominator and submitter.

I felt that a lot of his examples were made not to present an objective historical truth, but rather just to present a sort of counter-history that directly challenges the accepted narrative. Trouillot tells us that humans “participate in history as actors and narrators”, and that any recorded history is probably recorded to positively portray the victors. The story of Sans Souci is a poignant reminder of the role that race politics continue to play in Western literature, as the “past” has chosen a white leader for the Haitian revolution.

Nonetheless, studying the past must always be done taking a grain of salt, including any challenges to the accepted narrative. Keep in mind that any account of history, including counter-history provided by Trouillot or Dr. Krause, are just an interpretation of the truth. While there certainly are racial political issues at play in many events that Trouillot and Krause discussed, the extent to which those factors play into history is likely over or under-exaggerated to suit a purpose.

The comparison that comes to mind for me when talking about historiographical challenges to the accepted narrative is conspiracy theory. At some point, challenging the narrative and replacing it with your own is just as dangerous as not challenging it at all.

Either way, the usefulness of interpreting history in different ways is only important so far as it relates to the present. Trouillot warns us not to focus too much on the rights and wrongs of the past, as it “often diverts us from the present injustices for which previous generations only set the foundations”. We should do our best to keep in mind the purpose of studying history, and use the knowledge we gain from the past to improve ourselves moving forward.

On Absolutism and the State

Sophocles’ Antigone provides an interesting perspective on the absolute ruler. In lecture today, we talked about the idea of Creon as the real tragic character of Creon, whose fatal flaw of stubbornness and unwillingness to change is his downfall. As the other main character and the arguable antagonist, the audience gets to see a lot of what makes Creon tick. An antagonist he may be, but Sophocles develops Creon as more than just a villain seeking to gain power.

Creon’s opening line in Antigone begins with “Gentlemen, the State”. Here, we are shown Creon’s heroic qualities and good intentions. Far from being a tyrant, he rules for the good of the people and puts the people of Thebes before himself. Although, as king, he technically wields absolute power, he exercises it only in what he believes to be the best interests of the people. Ultimately, this leads to him making a decision that results in the opposite of his intent, and therein lies the tragedy.

Sophocles views the struggle between absolutist rule and rebellion against that rule, as characterized by Creon and Antigone is less of an ideological struggle than it is a struggle between old and new, tradition and progress. We cannot fault Creon for how he used his power, as his intentions were certainly for the best, but we can fault him for his failure to make the correct choice. In any case, he is not a tyrant. In cases like these, we can see why Plato would want the absolute ruler of a polis to be a philosopher as well. Perhaps if Creon had some kind of philosophical education, things would have turned out differently.

Q: How would Plato categorize Creon? How does our understanding of Creon’s reasoning change how we perceive that category?

Q: How does the chorus deal with Creon’s decision? Are the chorus “correct”/omnipotent?