View the H-War Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-War's March 2010 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-War's March 2010 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-War home page.
From: Chris Schultz <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: REPLY: War movies are wrong, how and why (2) Date: March 10, 2010 3:05:20 PM EST To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@h-net.msu.edu> R J Del Vecchio writes: <<Chris Shulz wrote- "The literal level of meaning in any mode of representation (photographic, filmic, or linguistic) is only a surface concern." I can only say that I find such a statement to be highly disputable in a discussion of how History is to be understood. In the tradition of Pilate, one can always say "Quod est veritas?" and object that we can very seldom, if ever, really attain a full understanding of anything. And that what is truth for one man is not truth for another. So do we give up and make total fiction as valid as anything else?>> Once again we are at a point of misunderstanding. If I had said there was no such thing as "truth" then perhaps I could accept this criticism. As I said no such thing, merely stating that a literal object can be identified, but that the moment it is made into a transcendental object (i.e. made meaningful), it is no longer possessed of "truth" as such--and that's to say nothing of the fact that a photographic image is not the thing depicted in the photo, the word "car" is not a car, "ceci n'est pas un pipe," etc... Even so, Stanley Cavell has argued that to say an object in a photo is not the object is patently absurd, but he also acknowledges that this is all part of a game of representations that opens wide the causal gates and invites an always widening net of interpretative structures. Applying the same type of analytical thinking to History, Arthur Danto suggests that all historical claims are unstable because they are entirely open-ended: their causality is indeterminate (assuming time keeps chugging along, of course, which was Fukuyama's rather silly oversight). Even a claim like R J Del Vecchio's argument that we know Nazi Germany was a brutal regime is only partly true, and is entirely reliant on a post-war perspective--something people in 1936, for instance, would not have had (and many didn't). If we apply a limitation to that claim--say to Leipzig in 1939--then R J Del Vecchio's claim falls apart entirely in the face of what appears to be a beneficial Nazi Germany. Don't misunderstand me: Nazi Germany represents just about the worst of all political ideologies and is synonymous with brutality run amok. Who but the David Irvings of the world would dispute such a claim? I don't say these things to be glib, but rather as a reminder that we may yet reappraise the "Nazi Germany = Bad" argument in the wake of something far, far worse. If, for instance, Caucasian Americans were to systematically wipe out the African-American population, nuke Iran, and invade Canada and Mexico, it seems to me that Hitler would be reduced to a footnote, or at least a significant reappraisal. Getting back to my point... Nobody is saying we should simply abandon our practices: far from it! The open-endedness of history is precisely what makes Fukuyama's claim so ridiculous. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and working within the imperfectibility of the craft. The spaces between words are sometimes chasms, and the testimonies of the most attentive witnesses are prone to errors. Even our own presence at an event does not ensure "truth." And as soon as we try to represent that event, we make conscious and unconscious choices of inclusion, and more importantly omission. Even more troublingly to those of us who feel we have important things to say is Wittgenstein's observation: "Sometimes what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." In other words, there are occassions that simply cannot be expressed no matter how hard we might try. So how on earth does this relate to films? Simple. A movie can show what words cannot. It is merely another representational medium, akin to language but with its own visual, spatial, and temporal specificity. If an historian fails to address those differences, he or she is sunk. But we also cannot take for granted that language, like film, is almost entirely * metaphorical*. We take this for granted because we are born into spoken language and a sensual reality. Reading a film properly requires training, much like honing language skills. And finally, to dispute what a few members have suggested, there is no such thing as "mindless" entertainment. All entertainment is mindfully constructed and mindfully interpreted--or did you never wonder why you don't get thoroughly confused by film editing? Sincerely, Chris Schultz Carleton University > > From: email@example.com > Subject: Re: REPLY: War movies are wrong, how and why (2) > Date: March 5, 2010 6:25:36 PM EST > To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@H-NET.MSU.EDU >> > > > Chris Shulz wrote- "The literal level of meaning in any mode of > representation (photographic, filmic, or linguistic) is only a surface > concern." > > I can only say that I find such a statement to be highly disputable in a > discussion of how History is to be understood. In the tradition of > Pilate, one can always say "Quod est veritas?" and object that we can > very seldom, if ever, really attain a full understanding of anything. > And that what is truth for one man is not truth for another. So do we > give up and make total fiction as valid as anything else? > > Certainly life is full of uncertainties and subjects the understanding of > which is inexact and perhaps highly relative. And some depictions of > historical events are not really damaged in any significant way by minor > things like using modern tanks merely marked up with Nazi markings as > substitutes for the real panzers, which are somewhat difficult to find > these days. > > But there are basic truths that are not uncertain or relative, and it is > arguably the job of the historian to do as much as possible to determine > what those are and present them carefully to others. That Nazi Germany > was aggressive and brutal, and had a very deliberate campaign of > genocide, is as true as true can be, and the same for Imperial Japan, and > that it was a concerted effort by the Allies over time that finally > brought the Axis down is also true. > > Are there debatable topics and subtopics within the larger framework, and > questions that cannot ever be answered with total certainty? Sure. That > we cannot always guarantee to find the total truth doesn't mean it's not > worthwhile and generally valid to try. > > And the ideas that war movies, even bad ones, can get people interested > in real history, and also should be looked at as metaphors sometimes > (Apocalypse Now being a prime example), is valid, but that's not the main > question. The question is, do average people get false ideas of real > History from watching inaccurate movies? Given things like the line in > Time magazine some years ago that the movie Platoon had finally shown > people "the real Vietnam", I don't think there's any doubt about that. > > R J Del Vecchio > ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----