What is History 8 by EH Carr: The next two Lectures or Chapters 5 and 6
History as Progress & The Widening Horizon
In What is History: Sleep Patterns we found that what we view as normal wasn’t necessarily the same in other periods. Sleep patterns were quite different before the coming of electric and gas lighting. Similarly the view of history has changed as well.
The two brilliant lectures in EH Carr’s What is History on the historian and his facts and causation were covered in the two previous articles: What is History 5: EH Carr Historians & their Facts and What is History 7: Causation in History covering EH Carr’s earlier lectures 1 to 4 in the book.
The current lecture 5 on History as Progress is perhaps Carr’s most brave and modern chapter in the book. While speculative, it raises issues that we still need to deal with, both in our understanding of history and our current understanding of what civilisation means. As such, the topic needs to be confronted and not marginalised.
One Sentence: a story about great sentences and great first sentences
This article on one sentence may veer in an entirely different direction, or not! I don’t always want to be predictable.
Journalists and newspapers often write articles on the first lines or one sentence of novels in holiday periods and the best of them are marvellous. Jane Austen and Tolstoy are always the first cabs off the rank.
Great opening sentences in fiction
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
— Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1813
Comment: This one sentence isn’t a bad summary of the novel. Underlying it is an indictment of late 18th Century inheritance laws and the inability of women to make their own way in the world, of which Jane Austen was painfully aware. She covers this topic in all her books on 18th century county life and manners.
The Story: David Bader’s Haiku barely does a better job than Jane’s sentence.
What is History? by EH Carr: The next three Lectures (Chapters 2 to 4)
Society & the individual; History, science & morality; Causation in history
I covered Lecture 1 or Chapter 1 (pp 7-30) in What is History, quite comprehensively in What is History 5: Historians and their facts. This was a very satisfying process because it was easy to tease erudite and incisive answers from Carr’s wonderful sentences and quotations from other historians.
The remaining lectures on initial reading tend to be slightly less incisive and a little more difficult in interpretation. However, there is still a large amount of fascinating material and the content Carr is grappling with, that is, defining a new way of looking at historical method (historiography) is too important to ignore.
The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats — a muse on literature
Cast a cold Eye On Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by!
Epitaph on Yeats grave, Drumcliff, County Sligo
When I was living in Derry, I stopped at Yeats’ grave a couple of times on my way down the west coast. My memory of it was coloured by the season — terribly cold, grim and isolated.
We passed by in 2014, travelling up the west coast in an unlikely Indian summer. The grave was no longer isolated, nasty strip developments along the highway had almost caught up with it. The site was pleasant, warm and sunny with stunning views of the escarpment.
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Ireland and died in France. His remains were exhumed and moved to Ireland in 1948.
What is History 6: The Development or Evolution of Religion
Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A brief history of humankind Harper 2014 (first published in Hebrew in 2011).
I feel guilty delving into Harari before embarking on Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel 1997 a much more profound book and one I have spent an enormous amount of time with, by reading and delving into Diamond’s sources. Harari himself acknowledges Diamond. He says:
Special thanks to Jared Diamond, who taught me to see the big picture.
Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A brief history of humankind is a brave and ambitious enterprise, but he doesn’t quite carry it off. In some ways, he reminds me of Marvin Harris a popularising anthropologist who wrote Cannibals and Kings in 1977, which I also like immensely. For all his faults, Harari takes us on a great journey.
Classic SciFi 10: Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic 1977
Vladimir Putin is sometimes treated as a bit of a joke in the West. This is a dangerous delusion, Putin has resurrected the oligarchy of the old Soviet Union. The uncontrolled Mafia and free market millionaires are gone. The Kremlin wants its cut of everything. If one resists, ruin or death may follow. If you cease to be useful or know too much, you can end up face-down in your own swimming pool.
The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in the UK in 2006 with polonium-210 seemed extreme, but it sent a powerful message to other Russians.
Denise and I have recently read two books on the new Russia and would recommend them to you.
Everything is True and Nothing is Impossible by Peter Pomerantsev 2014 covers the changes in Russia from the early 2000s to 2010. Pomerantsev, a UK born journalist of Russian descent, worked in Russia for around eight years making documentaries for Russian television, beginning in the midst of an oil boom. In the process, he covered much of the weird and wonderful in Russia at the time. The portrait is amazing and idiosyncratic. It documents the rise of Putin’s Russia and the strange consequences in Russian Society. It is amusing but also chilling and rather frightening. Returning to the UK in 2010, Pomerantsev discovered that many of the beneficiaries of the Russian system had moved to Britain and were continuing life in the UK, as if in Russia — an internationalising of the wealth and the excess, but still firmly controlled by Putin’s Russian oligarchy.
The killer robots come later. I bought two novels at Asia Books in Bangkok in late February and was offered, as part of a promotion, one book free from a remainder pile. I dithered between a beginners guide to Nietzche (not a Belgian — Google it!) and The Robots of Dawn.
The Robots of Dawn is a ‘whodunit’ science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1983. It is the third novel in Asimov’s Robot series (Wikipedia). The first novel is I, Robot (1950).
I, Robot is not really a novel but a collection of previously published stories with linking text, by a fictional researcher cum writer.
The Robots of Dawn I found to be incredibly tedious and lacking in action. I must grudgingly admit though that it contained some interesting ideas about robots and humans. I would only recommend these novels and the additional robot stories beyond those in I, Robot to an Asimov scholar. I, Robot is quite sufficient to gain an understanding of Asimov’s approach to and ideas on robots. Continue reading “Classic SciFi 9: Isaac Asimov I, Robot & Killer Robots”→