Category Archives: History and historiography
My first op-ed for Al Jazeera appeared this week. A shout-out to their editorial team, and especially to Naz, for a seamless experience.
From my Roman journal, 12 November 2012:
Caravaggio’s Conversione di San Paolo astounds (in the event, I couldn’t spare more than a second or two for his S. Pietro). A priest at Santa Maria del Popolo was kind enough to flip on the light, having witnessed my doubtful expression before the darkened chapel. The painting exploded in my field of vision, as a totality and in detail. I sorted out the respective limbs – Paul’s, the servant’s, the horse’s – in wonderment. Then I gazed for ages at the painter’s rendering of the bit, of the horse’s placid demeanor (its expression by far the most compelling of the three, to my mind). Paul, it turns out, labours under more and heavier harness than his equine partner.
It is no doubt an image of the immediate aftermath of a fall. To a pair of eyes innocent (or wittingly forgetful) of church history, art history, might it not allow for a multiplicity of possible readings? As an initiation into horse worship, for example?
WHAT TO DO
March 5 . But what does all this scribbling amount to? What is now scribbled in the heat of the moment one can contemplate with somewhat of satisfaction, but alas! to-morrow — aye, to-day — it is stale, flat and unprofitable — in fine, is not, only its shell remains, like some red parboiled lobster-shell which, kicked aside never so often, still stares at you in the path.
In a CIA review of various attempts between 1960 and 1963 to assassinate Fidel Castro…an internal report prepared in 1967 by the Inspector General of the CIA and declassified in 1978 for release to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, there appears, on the matter of Washington language, this instructive reflection:
… There is a third point, which was not directly made by any of those we interviewed, but which emerges clearly from the interviews and from reviews of files. The point is that of frequent resort to synecdoche – the mention of a part when the whole is to be understood, or vice versa. Thus, we encounter repeated references to phrases such as “disposing of Castro,” which may be read in the narrow, literal sense of assassinating him, when it is intended that it be read in the broader, figurative sense of dislodging the Castro regime. Reversing the coin, we find people speaking vaguely of “doing something about Castro” when it is clear that what they have specifically in mind is killing him. In a situation wherein those speaking may not have actually meant what they seemed to say or may not have said what they actually meant, they should not be surprised if their oral shorthand is interpreted differently than was intended.
Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live, 472-3