This is a rough collection of quotes from some novels and essays around ideas of history, nostalgia, objects and narrative.


‘Don’t you feel it?’ he kidded her. ‘The historicity?’

She said, ‘What is ‘historicity’?’

‘When a thing has history in it. Listen. One of those two Zippo lighters was in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn’t. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it?’ He nudged her. ‘You can’t. You can’t tell which is which. There’s no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it.’

‘Gee,’ the girl said, awed. ‘Is that really true? That he had one of those on him that day?’

‘Sure. And I know which it is. You see my point. It’s all a big racket; they’re playing it on themselves. I mean, a gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it’s the same as if it hadn’t, unless you know. It’s in here.’ He tapped his head. ‘In the mind, not the gun.

‘I don’t believe either of those two lighters belonged to Franklin Roosevelt,’ the girl said.

Wyndam-Matson giggled. ‘That’s my point! I’d have to prove it to you with some sort of document. A paper of authenticity. And so it’s all a fake, a mass delusion. The paper proves its worth, not the object itself!

–Philip K Dick, The Man in The High Castle


Anything can be an instrument, Chigurh said. Small things. Things you wouldnt even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there’s an accounting. And after that nothing is the same. Well, you say. It’s just a coin. For instance. Nothing special there. What could that be an instrument of? You see the problem. To separate the act from the thing. As if the parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it’s just a coin. Yes. That’s true. Is it?

–Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men 


Capitalism demands in this sense a different experience of temporality from that which was appropriate to a feudal or tribal system, to the polis or to the forbidden city of the sacred despot: it demands a memory of qualitative social change, a concrete vision of the past which we may expect to find completed by that far more abstract and empty conception of some future terminus which we sometimes call “progress.

–Fredric Jameson, Progress vs Utopia


The late capitalist present was necessarily staked on the capacity to realize and replicate itself by borrowing against the guaranteed promise of the future as the site of more of the same and of the endlessness of reproduction without difference.

In the wake of this, the permanence of the here and now comes unstuck, leaving the uncertain shell of the ensured future and the nervous repetition of the defaulted present to plow forward into nothing.

–Evan Calder Williams, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse


In any case, there are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.

–Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves


‘History isn’t just something that’s behind us, it’s also something that follows us.’

–Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man


I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


Mallow lifted his gloomy face, and exclaimed fiercely, “What business of mine is the future? No doubt Seldon has foreseen it and prepared against it. There will be other crises in the time to come when money power has become as dead a force as religion is now. Let my successors solve those new problems, as I have solved the one of today.”

–Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy


Riose’s voice trembled with indignation. “You mean that this art of his predicts that I would attack the Foundation and lose such and such a battle for such and such a reason? You are trying to say that I am a silly robot following a predetermined course into destruction.”

“No,” replied the old patrician, sharply. “I have already said that the science had nothing to do with individual actions. It is the vaster background that has been foreseen.”

“Then we stand clasped tightly in the forcing hand of the Goddess of Historical Necessity.”

“Of Psychohistorical Necessity,” prompted Barr, softly.

–Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy


“Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

Alan Moore, Watchmen


According to an incisive formation of Slavoj Zizek, it is easier at the present  historical moment to imagine the destruction of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

–Peter Y. Paik, From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe

Where there was nostalgia there was amnesia.

–Martin Cruz Smith, Stalin’s Ghost

Nostalgia is superficially loving in its re-creation of the past; but it evokes the past only to bury it alive. It shares with the belief in progress, to which it is only superficially opposed, an eagerness to proclaim the death of the past and to deny history’s hold over the present.

–Helen J. Burgess, Road of Giants 

Nostalgia in this context is, like kitsch, at least partly ironic and certainly distanced from its object-the wish is not for a return to the past but for the preservation of fetishized objects.

–Helen J. Burgess, Road of Giants 


But, as Fredric Jameson has said, “a history lesson is the best cure for nostalgic pathos.”

–Linda Hutcheon, Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern


‘An imitation of the authentic historic gun. Nothing more. I am afraid, sir, you have been deceived. Perhaps by some unscrupulous churl. You must report this to the San Francisco police.’ The man bowed. ‘It grieves me. You may have other imitations, too, in your shop. Is it possible, sir, that you, the owner, dealer, in such items, cannot distinguish the forgeries from the real?’ There was silence.

–Philip K Dick, The Man in The High Castle


It could always all be unreal – how could you ever tell otherwise? You took it on trust, in part because what would be the point of doing anything else? When the fake behaved exactly like the real, why treat it as anything different? You gave it the benefit of the doubt, until something proved otherwise.

–Iain M. Banks, Surface Detail


They are like markers breaking the surface of history, indicating the dim configurations of some elaborate, concealed design

–Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail


It was impossible to work at Slitscan without a sense of participating in history, or else in what Kathy Torrance would argue had replaced history.

William Gibson, Idoru


All his life Laney has heard talk of the death of history, but confronted with the literal shape of all human knowledge, all human memory, he begins to see the way in which there never really has been any such thing. No history. Only the shape, and it comprised of lesser shapes, in squirming fractal descent, on down into the infinitely finest of resolutions. But there is will. “Future” is inherently plural.

–William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties


He had been taught, of course, that history, along with geography, was dead. That history in the older sense was an historical concept. History in the older sense was narrative, stories we told ourselves about where we’d come from and what it had been like, and those narratives were revised by each new generation, and indeed always had been. History was plastic, was a matter of interpretation. The digital had not so much changed that as made it too obvious to ignore. History was stored data, subject to manipulation and interpretation.

–William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties


History isn’t what happened. History is just what historians tell us.

–Julian Barnes, A History of The World in 10 1/2 Chapters


Granted, there is always much that is hidden, and we must not forget that the writing of history — however dryly it is done and however sincere the desire for objectivity — remains literature. History’s third dimension is always fiction

–Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game


Narrative form is so readily understandable, so apparently natural, that talking about it is like trying to step out  of the river of time.

–Frank Ankersmit, Ewa Domanska and Hans Kellner, Re-Figuring Hayden White 


I have no quarrel with the student of history who brings to his work a touchingly childish, innocent faith in the power of our minds and our methods to order reality; but first and foremost he must respect the incomprehensible truth, reality, and uniqueness of events. Studying history, my friend, is no joke and no irresponsible game. To study history one must know in advance that one is attempting something fundamentally impossible, yet necessary and highly important. To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning. It is a very serious task, young man, and possibly a tragic one.”

–Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

“All stories are true,” Skarpi said. “But this one really happened, if that’s what you mean.” He took another slow drink, then smiled again, his bright eyes dancing. “More or less. You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way. Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere.”

–Patrick Rothfuss, The Name Of The Wind


He wasn’t telling the Truth, with trumpets; he was telling the truth, the story that you wouldn’t think to doubt because it’s taken for granted.

–Orson Scott Card, Speaker For The Dead


  ‘History is bunk.’

–Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


We learned from our father’s behavior that the world lacked coherence, and that within this chaos people were doomed to failure, and these realizations clouded our every ambition.

–Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

“For the sins of all fathers, the deaths and monstrosities, make ghosts that trail after the children.” She spat. “There is no justice. Your Christian God looks down on all and sees every sparrow, but cares nothing for the children. He is a god of birds.”

–Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo and E.D. de Birmingham, The Mongoliad

But I have worse to tell you. While there, I went to see how poor Incent was and, finding him comparatively sensible and able to talk about bis situation, asked for his permission to administer a test. It was the simplest possible test, based on the word history. At this word itself, he was able to maintain composure. The word historical caused his pulse to quicken, but then it steadied. At historical processes, he remained firm. Perspective of history –_ so far so good. Winds of history: he showed signs of agitation. These did not decrease. I then decided, wrongly, to increase the dose, trying logic of history. At this point I began to realize the hopelessness of it, for his breathing was rapid, his face pale, his pupils dilating. Inevitability of… lessons of… historical tasks… But it was not until dustbin of history that I gave up. He was on his feet, wildly exultant, both arms held up, preparatory to launching himself into declamation, and I said, ‘Incent, what are we going to do with you?’

–Doris Lessing, The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire



On History and Objects | 2012 | Fiction, Quotes, Text, True History | Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *