Evaluating History Past and Present

What would I do without friends to keep me up-to-date? Despite my keeping a calendar, I’m always missing something: I’m always “a day late and a dollar short.”  Or not, if friends call or E-mail to keep me on track. A week ago, I missed The Culture Show on BBC 2, but a friend wrote to say that I could catch it on the computer. The September 17th interview with Hilary Mantel was thought-provoking and beautifully filmed; it was a work of art about an artist.

Mantel writes memoir, short fiction, critical reviews and historical fiction. Her work has been short-listed many times. Most recently Wolf Hall, the first of two books on the life of Thomas Cromwell, won the Booker Prize in 2009. A sequel, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to see print. Many critics have characterized her writing as “dark.” I love dark. Watching the video, I took notes. My favorite quote is: “Prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink.”

In regard to reading history (or researching past sources if you are writing a historical novel), Mantel suggests that we ask two questions: first, who has written the book, and second, what was the author’s motivation in writing it? Both are good questions that apply to contemporary news as well as interpretations of the historical past.

Not to rant, but I am increasingly unhappy with unattributed quotes and statistics. Bloggers are most guilty, but mainstream papers are also sliding down the slippery slope. Who said it; where and when did they say it; and what was the context? Is critical reading even taught in schools? As the world speeds up and we are bombarded by sound-bites, how many readers are questioning (have the time to question) the nature of those flying chunks of information that zip by us as we read the news on our iPhone or BlackBerry while waiting for the green light at an intersection?

As words fall by the wayside, perhaps art- be it film, photography or sculpture- will speak to us. The photo to the left is of a sculpture at St. Martin’s in the Field, Trafalgar Square, London. Sculpted by Chaim Stephenson and dedicated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1994, it stands as a memorial to the victims of injustice and violence in South Africa during the years of apartheid. An emaciated man carries a young child, perhaps dying, perhaps dead. I see dignity and grief. The message and the emotional response is as current today as yesterday.

The Hilary Mantel interview was so good that I watched it not once but twice. And then days passed. I kept thinking that I should write a short blog urging my readers to check it out. But I dallied.

And now, one week after the program aired… I am/we are out of time: a day late and a dollar short.

If you type ‘Hilary Mantel + The Culture Show’ into your search engine, something will come up. Not the entire program, but clips. And if that taster is not enough, you can scroll down the homepage and click on archived Culture Show programs. Choices include shows categorized as film, dance, architecture, books…

Going to the archive is like stepping into a Michelin-starred restaurant. You will want everything on the menu.

Writers’ Trigger:

  • What was Hilary Mantel saying when she said, “Prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink”? Have you pricked your fingers, or are you buying your ink elsewhere?
  • Mantel advises us to write our piece and then cut it by one-third. Find a piece that you wrote some time ago. Check the word count and divide by three. Cut a third and compare the two pieces.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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