On History

On History

Rogelio García Contreras

Beyond national stereotypes, nothing reveals the essence of national identities better than what David Campbell calls “the clash with the Other”, he or she who is not like us. On History is a serious and honest conversation; a foreign chronicle of the official discourse where two intelligent, assertive and inspiring minds clash with each other and with the official history of the very same establishment that makes this book as necessary as crucial.

The scandal, the unsuspected truth, the shocking revelation, On History is the voice and wisdom of two talented writers and extraordinary filmmakers. Tariq Ali, the Pakistani, reflects on the terrible, constant, and decomposed wind that blows through the pages of world history; Oliver Stone, the American, makes sure this official history doesn’t remain unquestioned. Both dance at the rhythm of their own conversation, confusing themselves in that ephemeral instant, one common history offering, simultaneously, the nostalgia of what we could be and the hope of everything we should be.

Through an enlightening conversation, Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone remind us that we should not separate what we are capable to imagine from what we are capable to remember. Imagining the past, remembering the future. On History conquers the tenses and tensions of universal history through verbal means. Their conversation becomes a lethal weapon against what Derrida calls the genealogy of official history, the kind of history that rather than explaining the past is a grotesque attempt to justify the present. On History seems to understand American and World History as a tissue of meanings, and all of these meanings, as Wittgenstein suggested, are persuaded in such a way that there is no such thing as an ultimate meaning; and if there is, this meaning is humanly inexpressible. And yet, beyond our words, beyond our attempt to account for an honest history, there is something which only silence can point to: the author is born after its creation. The writer creates, the readers re-create; the historian is incomplete without the history student, but every story, every speech, every song, every life ends in silencie.

Aside from their irreducible commitment to respect the legitimate claims of others to know and to understand history, the conversation Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone sustained at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, is grounded to the idea of individual emancipation and self-responsibility.  Both are key in the construction of a more just and equal community, and to the principle of ethical life, which emphasizes both. The result of this conception of history, and everything history should be, is a conscious attempt to emancipate us all from the myths and deliberately constructed episodes of universal history. Official history is forced on us through the interests of power and the power of emerging interests. On History refuses to play this game and instead of setting people against each other, it tries to tie its readers in bonds of mutual respect. After all, searching for the truth is far more important than constructing myths. The intention, of course, is not to distance people from each other but to enable people to freely pursue and advance their shared communal and cultural ends, without penalizing or marginalizing those groups who have different and perhaps conflicting interests with the interests of the establishment.   Put it differently, since most people have a very strong bond to their own cultural heritage, individual choice, understood as the outcome of personal autonomy and a liberal commitment to freedom of choice, is dependent on the presence of societal culture, defined by a common language and a common history.

Featuring two of the most insightful observers of history and popular culture of our time, On History is profound in its views. Its lines incite controversy and stimulate debate. On History is more than an account of American or World history between two brilliant minds. On History is an exciting, refreshing and emancipating conversation between two enlightened, informed, brave and honest individuals. A book worth reading from beginning to end.

Posted: September 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm