England, England

“‘Let me put it this way. You are our Official Historian. You are responsible, how can I put it, for our history. Do you follow?’
‘Clear as a b-ell, so far, my dear Jeff.’
‘Right. Well, the point of our history – and I stress the our – will be to make our guests, those buying what is for the moment referred to as Quality Leisure, feel better.’
‘Better. Ah, the old e-thical questions, what a snake-pit they are. Better. Meaning?’
‘Less ignorant.’
‘Precisely. That’s why I was a-ppointed, I assume.’
‘Max, you missed the verb.’
‘Which one?’
‘Feel. We want them to feel less ignorant. Whether they are or not is quite another matter, even outside our jurisdiction.’ Dr Max now had his thumbs stuck in the pockets of his taupe waistcoat, a gesture indicating to viewers humorous scepticism. Jeff would have happily hung the fellow out to dry, but he pressed on. ‘The point is that most people don’t want what you and your colleagues think of as history – the sort you get in books – because they don’t know how to deal with it. Personally, I’ve every sympathy. With them, that is. I’ve tried to read a few history books myself, and while I may not be clever enough to enroll in your classes, it seems to me that the main problem with them is this: they all assume you’ve read most of the other history books already. It’s a closed system. There’s nowhere to start. It’s like looking for the tag to unwrap a CD. You know that feeling? There’s a coloured strip running all the way round, and you can see what’s inside and you want to get at it, but the strip doesn’t seem to start anywhere no matter how many times you run your fingernail round it?’
Dr Max had taken out a little notebook and his silver propelling pencil was poised. ‘Do you mind if I a-ppropriate that? It’s frightfully good. The bit about the CD wrapper, I mean.’ He scribbled a note. ‘Yes? So?’
‘So we don’t threaten people. We don’t insult their ignorance. We deal in what they already understand. Perhaps we add a little more. But nothing unwelcomely major.’”

(pages 70-71)

Subject headings associated with the quotation

1. Intellectual life. 2. Knowledge, Sociology of, in literature. 3. History.

Bibliographic Description

Barnes, Julian, 1958- author
Text (visual) : unmediated
England, England / Julian Barnes. — London : Jonathan Cape, 1998.
266 pages ; 22 cm.
ISBN 0224052756