Intuition brought me down a serious/awful thesis rabbit-hole, so bear with me… I am thinking about representations of the historical present; about the present as it unfolds and overwhelms, about the shift from representation to information that Terranova talks about, about habituation that “stretches the present out” and makes one appear “both stranger and intimate to himself…” I am thinking about the way that the historical is aesthetically represented as present to “dissolve the distinction among and fetishization of memory, history, fantasy, and futurity.” When Berlant gives us the Sontag passage she even calls it reenactment.
This weekend I went to a historical reenactment of a “representative” October day six months after the battle of Lexington and Concord. This reenactment happened on the site known as Lexington and Concord. The participants loved to bring up the discontinuities they'd been related-- the Battle of Bunker Hill is a misnomer, they said, all the fighting happened, actually, at Breed's Hill nearby.
A woman in a bonnet and she interpreted for the crowd, and then, with musical interludes, asked for questions and referred to things like the tour of a colonial house on which we were about to embark. She existed out of time; her speech lay somewhere between performance and conversation, in Berlant’s sense of the word. It was not clear who she was playing—it didn’t matter—but it was clear that the represented woman had existed and had been an inhabitant of a nearby still-standing house (where Nathaniel Hawthorne would eventually live—“I hear in my house in the walls a man named Nathaniel Hawthorne,” she said). The information provided to viewers was concrete and (auto)biographical—the number of children she birthed (17), the occupation of her husband (merchant), the locations she lived in succession (Boston, Concord, Boston, Maine) … the bureaucratic tax profile of a human circa 1775, reconstituted like a freeze-dried shrimp.
In the moment, though, I noticed not this information but her tone and her tense (her affect?). Her depiction did, in fact, have a past—she recounted events she’d lived through. But then something strange happened: she said to the crowd, “My husband has been a merchant. He’s been involved with the triangular trade routes.” That is-- the information she conveyed was verbalized ahistorically and anachronistically—the “triangular trade” exists as a historical concept rather than a term of the era, and so to use it does something... weird to performance/reality/time distinctions.
Berlant talks about trauma as creating “a periodizing norm for writing about the history of the present,” an insta-history and memory delineated and separated by the instances of the unpredictable and unconceptualizable, the quick naming and remembering brought on by the perpetual, gasping crisis ordinary... I wonder what she would have to say about this sort of half-present(ation) of the past, half first-person acting and half-textbook, but all individual, of course, all contained within one human. Why did this woman reenact? Why this way? Was the a-/multi-historical narrative an accident, or something else, something virtual?
If reenactment is an idea of a human filtered through another human, that is, a human representing itself in an intentionally dislocated or disassociated way, then… might the way of interacting with the world induced by events “caught in the throat of memory” impact choices in conceptualization, re-inflation of the past? What political guidelines must be followed for a person to imbue themselves into a national past? Can placing oneself self-conscious historical subjecthood itself be freeing… because intuition and dislocation still happen, but under the guise of performance or representation…? I’m thinking again of the discontinuities in Sontag’s text that Berlant brings up—that the words represent ambient perceptions of conversation but present them linearly, mimesis itself folded into historical present… what, then, can we say about the monologue of a reenactor?