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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


History is shown feeling about the past.
     History is the organization of memory, single and general memory.

     The past changes into the present by being remembered. A present feeling and a feeling remembered are of the same time. This means that a thought about Julius Caesar is as immediate, once had, as a thought about an uncle or a girl friend.

     History is about the whole past. And since the past is existence seen as up to now, it is also about existence in general; for the understanding of existence up to now implies an understanding of existence beyond now. The past, felt utterly, wholly, would mean the future felt utterly, wholly. All history is felt in the present.

     History is about every single thing. History aims at the grand, inconceivable inclusiveness of existence. History is therefore about the development of shirts, the attitudes to idols, transactions on South American savannahs, and about history itself. History should include dead infants and disappointed maiden ladies. It should include the possible boredom of the year 412, and the excitement of the year 1649. Whatever has been is history's field.

     Existence is an interaction of what's in and what's left out, or the included and excluded. The included to the thing including, larger than it, is as the excluded; for there is something in the thing including which the thing included does not have. For example, New York State, larger than Albany, includes Albany. However, by the very fact of being definitely included as Albany, Albany is excluded from being what the rest of New York State is.

     History can be seen in two ways: 1, as a complete possible description of the past, equivalent really to the past itself; 2, as a description, by selection, of the past. The aim of history is to make past feeling felt more, or, simply, the past felt more. One way of not feeling something is not to have it around. The other way is to have it around, but to have other things around interfering with the effect, as feeling, of the first thing.

     We can, for instance, see the Battle of Tours, or the growth of architecture, or the changes in sea-going, or the rise of a new attitude to women, in a neat way, hardly possible to people living at the times these matters were taking place, or in transaction.

     Strong feeling consists of an accurate apportionment of intensity and comprehensiveness, neatness and meaning, exclusion and inclusion. All this means that selection can do more than mechanical inclusiveness. We can select in history. We can place the Battle of Tours or the Battle of Gettysburg so that details obscuring its feeling-impact, details acting perhaps on the persons alive in 732 or 1863, do not act on us. The past, in some ways, can be seen with more intensity than it was seen when it was just present.

     Selection, like existence, is exclusion for the purpose of inclusion. Selection, as to history and the past, can, as I will show in greater detail later, honor both history and the past, and the wholeness or comprehensiveness of each.

© 1945 by Eli Siegel

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