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Oxleygate and BBC Reith Lectures

In Political governance, Public Administration on 30/06/2017 at 9:24 am

Hilary Mantel is this year’s BBC Reith Lecturer. On 13 June this year, the award-winning (two Man Booker prizes in four years) and best-selling novelist gave the first of her five BBC Reith Lectures for 2017.

The title of this series is “Resurrection: the Art and Craft”. The first lecture is called ‘The Day Is For The Living’.

The following extract is relevant as to why there is a cabinet committee looking into the circumstances surrounding LKY’s will despite the PM and his PAP administration accepting that it is valid. They did not (and do not, so far) challenge its validity but the commitee  is saying it is trying to establish if he really wanted his house to be demolished after his daughter moved out as per will.

If this sounds illogical, it is. Accepting the validity of the will i.e. not challenging it is to accept that the will represents “the last will and testament” of the testator. (Aside: in a one-party state, de jure or defacto, the party decides what is “illogical”. “Illogical” can be “logical”. (Related post on a one-party state)

This inquiry has led to a row among the Lee children, and between the PAP administration and the PM’s siblings. They don’t want the PAP administration to do to them what their pa did to S’poreans. (So spoiled, they are?)

To the PAP, it’s all about the importance of trying to control the narrative of LKY’s life. And in athedefacto one-party state he founded, the ruling party has no choice but to control the narrative of LKY’s life by fair means or foul.

Commemoration is an active process, and often a contentious one. When we
memorialize the dead, we are sometimes desperate for the truth, and sometimes for a comforting illusion. We remember individually, out of grief and need. We remember as a society, with a political agenda – we reach into the past for foundation myths of our tribe, our nation, and found them on glory, or found them on grievance, but we seldom found them on cold facts.

Nations are built on wishful versions of their origins: stories in which our
forefathers were giants, of one kind or another. This is how we live in the world:
romancing …

As soon as we die, we enter into fiction. Just ask two different family members to
tell you about someone recently gone, and you will see what I mean. Once we can no longer speak for ourselves, we are interpreted. When we remember – as psychologists so often tell us – we don’t reproduce the past, we create it. Surely, you may say – some truths are non-negotiable, the facts of history guide us. And the records do indeed throw up some facts and figures that admit no dispute. But the historian Patrick Collinson wrote: ‘It is possible for competent historians to come to radically different conclusions on the basis of the same evidence. Because, of course, 99% of the evidence, above all,unrecorded speech, is not available to us.’

Evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it –
information is not knowledge. And history is not the past – it is the method we have
evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the
record. It’s the plan of the positions taken, when we to stop the dance to note them
down. It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it – a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth. It is no more ‘the past’ than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey. It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that.

Historians are sometimes scrupulous and self-aware, sometimes careless or
biased. Yet in either case, and hardly knowing which is which, we cede them moral
authority. They do not consciously fictionalize, and we believe they are trying to tell the truth. But historical novelists face – as they should – questions about whether their work is legitimate. No other sort of writer has to explain their trade so often.

The reader asks,is this story true? That sounds like a simple question, but we have to unwrap it. Often the reader is asking, can I check this out in a history book? Does it agree with other accounts?  Would my old history teacher recognize it?

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2017/reith_2017_hilary_mantel_lecture%201.pdf

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