Yesterday I attended the final lecture of UCC’s School of History’s Irish Revolution Series. This lecture, titled “Remembering Past Futures: Commemoration and the Roads Untaken,” was presented by Dr. Heather Laird, and despite some titular similarities to past installments, is, in fact, not a new X-Men film.
This talk took the current flurry of 1916 commemorations as a jumping off point to question how we deal with memory, history, and the past. Laird differentiated history from the past through Ged Martin’s definition of history as “an attempt to make sense of some part of the past.”Historians concern for making history a dry sequence of events, however, makes a process as deeply emotional and personal as commemoration problematic. Laird contended that within more personal and “bottom up” interpretations of the past like commemoration lies the potential for seeing alternatives histories and, as a result, alternative futures.
Laird’s talk was rooted in a criticism of the teleological nature of history as it is usually viewed. She offered instances of counter factual fiction as an alternative to traditional history, a way to re-imagine the past. She illustrated this most succinctly through a quote from the Nestor episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses:
Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass?
Laird was sure to observe the language of servitude in this passage (see “branded” and “fettered”). This seems to me to point to the helplessness this view of history can encourage, as opposed to the more imaginative questions that can be asked (such as what if Caesar had not been killed) if one looks at history as something less than inevitable.
This point in the lecture that actually kickstarted my thinking about my own work. While the essay due dates for my current modules are still comfortably distant, I have been particularly challenged by thinking about a potential topic for my Irish Cinema paper. While listening to this talk, however, I began to think of how certain elements of this interest in what might have been, or a literature that actively interrogates the routes of history relates to Peter Lennon’s The Rocky Road to Dublin. Particularly I began to ask myself how the film’s emphasis on music functions as a distinctly cinematic way to contemplate the passage of time, music being an art form based on organizing and structuring the passage of time in distinct beats and measures. All of these questions and musings are only in their vaguest state for me at present, but it is reassuring to begin to have a sense of direction.
In the meantime I’ll work on my photo editing abilities.
Laird, Heather. “Remembering Past Futures: Commemoration and the Roads Untaken.” Reconsidering the Rising Lecture Series, University College Cork School of History, 26 October 2016, Lecture.