Seeing us as the past

I’ve been wondering a bit lately just how our age is going to be depicted by historical novelists a hundred years into the future. I know a number of historical novelists working today who go to great pains to learn all that they can about their subject eras so that the story they tell is accurate to a high degree of confidence. (Even so, I can pick up plenty of contemporary fiction — stories set in our current age — and wonder just what universe their authors are trying to depict and where they dredged up the psychologies they’ve given their characters.)

If history is more or less bunk, as Henry Ford once said, just what will those future novelists make of our world? (Ford’s intention was to urge people to live in the present, to make history in the present, but another common statement is that history books are written by the winners. It’s devilishly difficult to get an unvarnished view of the past. My point is that history books are unreliable sources, at least in part.)

Will these novelists understand the tumults of globalization and multiculturalism that we are sweating through? Or will their stories pay undue focus on pop music and fashion? I suppose either approach is valid in its way, but one seems more like an adult theme while the other seems like a teen theme.

I wonder how well we can hope to know a past age, given how complex our current age is. There is a common sentiment that the past was a simpler age. I think that’s bunk, too. Most people who call up this idea are, in my experience anyway, referring to the generation just prior to their own. They lived in part of it as children, and they remember it being simpler. What they forget is that they were children. They saw little and understood even less of what was happening in that age. They were protected from the rude realities of life by their parents. I think the past was just as complex as our own age, and about the only difference I can see is that in our age, with instantaneous global communication, we can simply be better informed than our predecessors.

So what will the historical novelist several generations hence do with our age? I don’t think I’ll get the chance to find out.

Explore posts in the same categories: Rants and ruminations


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