Sunday, March 21, 2010

Counterfactual of the week

Many historians have begun to be heard above the professional cacaphony with regard to the significance of contingency. A renewed recognition of this has begun to reshape our historical representations of both continuities and discontinuities within the seismic seams of the past. At least in terms of how we think we can "see", understand and and/or imagine the texture of the past. Beyond the temporal elasticizing of our familiar historiographic heuristics ("The Reformation", the "Renaissance", the "Enlightenment" et cet.), the consideration of contingency nudges us towards, even more than usual, thinking about the possibilities of the counterfactual. For the most part, our weekly "what if" will not contemplate the traditional topographies of high political and cultural mediation. These questions are not confined to the conventional historical discipline and its genres, of course, but also to a glut of various forms including cinema and novelized fiction. The alternate vision of a fascist 1930s England, topped by the additional conceit of being a re-enactment of Richard III. Or, on the other hand, a fascist postwar America after Charles Lindbergh's defeat of Roosevelt in the presidential election.

This week will not conjure such an imaginative re-rendering, but will briefly (as not to cause despair in the wake of its contemplation) offer a grim prospect. What if Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin did not enact the beast with two backs and produce a happy result the next year? Even after a pirated viewing of Lars von Trier's Antichrist, this is an alternate reality that I would rather not speculate upon (take care not to confuse the latter, as I'm sure you may be tempted, with L'anticristo, the 1974 spaghetti horror from Alberto de Martino, a masterpiece of the exorcisploitation genre. Only Jesus Franco's Les possedees du diable, aka Lorna the Exorcist, could possibly match its Empyrean exemplariness in the genre).


  1. Good one! Just wish I were intelligent enough to underestand what you were talking about. I still can't figure out why the Wiley Coyotee didn't throw in the chips. I mean, how many times do you gotta get outfoxed by a Shifty Roadrunner to know you are in the wrong line of work?

  2. Fish Eye,
    given what you said about interpreting our interpretation, ad infinitum, of familiar historiographic heuristics, could one speculate on the larger point that historians, at the very least, have a need to make peace with the intrinsic uncertainy of existence and any ensuing "vision" of the past? That is to say however, upon deeper consideration, watching a scene of William Dafoe chopping his weiner off, need not necessarily drive one to that conclusion.