Revisionist history? Nah.

There’s an excellent op-ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times that readers here — especially those who are as fascinated with postmodernism as I am — will find interesting. Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University, writes that attempts by conservatives to stifle the pejorative (in their minds) concept of “revisionist history” are a sham and that all history is revisionist. Since this blog is dedicated to observations of postmodernism, I must say that I really agree with the thesis offered here and especially as it relates to politics.

And just last week, in an unprecedented move, the president’s brother approved a law barring revisionist history in Florida public schools. “The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth,” declares Florida’s Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.”

Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.

I’m reminded of the old saying that the victor gets to write the history, and I’ve always found that fascinating. While I believe that it’s inaccurate to paint postmodernism into any corner (after all, how do you “define” something that doesn’t accept definitions?) and that the seeming chaos of it is used by certain special interests to preach fear, the culture — our culture — is better off asking questions than accepting as truth that which is delivered by those with something to gain in the process.

What might we discover? That war is silly? That war is necessary? That we don’t know as much as we think we know? That we know more than we think we know? That there’s enough for everybody? That there’s not enough for everybody? Or do we want to forget all that and get on with our consumer-centric lives, believing that our history doesn’t so much matter or that we’re comfortable with the absolute assertion that history is what the victor says it is?

It’s not very safe, this practice of deconstruction, but the ones to which it is least safe represent the comfortable status quo.

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