Who's Perspective?

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Posted by Gayle on March 11, 1999 at 11:15:20:

Recently I came across a fascinating little volume called "The Quaker Colonies", written by Sidney G. Fisher and published in 1919. A couple of excerpts especially intrigued me, because they seemed to exist somewhere in the middle between 1700 and our own current "time/space experience" - developing from one and having no experience of the future. Consider these:

"Nowadays, however, all whipping for the State is done in Wilmington, where all prisoners sentenced to whipping in the State are sent. This punishment is found to be so efficacious that its infliction a second time on the same person is exceedingly rare." (p. 223)

"The flour mills were followed in 1802 by the Du Pont Powder Works, which are known all over the world and which furnished powder for all Am,erican Wars since the Revolution, for the Crimean War in Europe, and for the Allies in The Great War." (p. 227)

Michael Mann made the rather stunning comment in his interview with Graham Fuller that "I didn't want to take 1757, this story, and turn it into some kind of two-dimensional metaphor for 1991. What I did was go the other way and take our understanding of those cultures - and I think we understand them better today than Cooper did in 1826 - and use our contemporary perspective as a tool to construct a more intense experience of realistically complex people in a complex time."

This strikes me as exceedingly arrogant. How can we "understand" the culture and thinking of people in a context which is not our own? So in rewriting Cooper, did Mann produce reality or fantasy?

All perspectives welcome.


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