Here’s a little thing I wrote for one of my classes in response to a lecturer who discussed history/histories as an open, fluid concept:
While listening to Peter Haratonik’s lecture last week, and in particular his discussion of how history is organized, I involuntarily though of the great scene in Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity (the scene is also in the movie starring John Cusack) in which the protagonist, Rob Gordon is in the process of organizing his enormous record collection chronologically—as a sort of personal chronicle, a history. For me, music is a great example of a “living” history, a history constantly being enriched and expanded, a personal history full of constant self-referentiality, interconnectedness, gaps in memory, vivid imagery and a great deal of creative non-fiction (facts colored by emotion and memory to the point where I can no longer distinguish the already-blurred lines between fact and fiction). Music is something I’m incredibly passionate about—I have an enormous collection, the contents of which might seem a bit schizophrenic or chaotic to some. It’s a collection I’ve cobbled together over the years and there’s nothing neat or orderly about it. Like me, like the life I’ve lived as I’ve been assembling it, it’s messy. There’s redundancy, there’s contradiction, there’s trendiness and anger and sadness and quietude, sweetness, gentleness, crassness, and the just plain bad. It’s me, and it’s my history on many levels.
First, as in High Fidelity, it’s a chronological path through my life. It helps me to map who I was when certain music was important to me or where I was when a song burned itself into my consciousness forever. A great deal of my music recalls to me a particular person, or people, sometimes because they were the one(s) who introduced me to a band or artist, sometimes because they gave me an album, sometimes because I shared an experience with them while listening to a particular song or album or a feeling with them that is perfectly encapsulated by a particular piece of music. So, music can be not only a chronological history but an emotional and sensory one as well. Like the way the smell of chlorine takes me instantly back to my pre-teen swimming lessons at the YMCA, just a few notes of a certain song may instantly overwhelm me with a sense of a different place and time—sometimes an entire period of time, sometimes a particular moment. Music in so many ways represents one of the most personal and accurate histories of myself and my own life that I can think of. Perhaps this isn’t necessarily the same kind of a history Professor Haratonik was speaking about, but so much of what he said seemed relevant to this example. And, in relation to Foucault’s quotation above, it seems to me that in an age when we are starting to explore the idea of “literacy” in the context of a number of different media, there is no reason why a song or an album cannot be just as much of an historical, meaningful “document” as any book or piece of paper.