a commonplace book
Legends grow in many ways, but inevitably at some expense, occasionally of the heroes themselves, sometimes of an author’s integrity, but always at the cost of an honest reckoning with the half shadows of history.
John Paul Rollert, “Second Founding,” The Point, 2015
This on representations and mythic understandings of Benjamin Franklin.
The passage well warns against the cost of personal mythologization. As with Franklin and many other of the so-called founding fathers of the United States, the way we have come to understand them–that is, insofar as we do so in the form of legend, consciously or not–fails or even precludes any reckoning with history. It is not that our understandings of these characters are completely false, but that they become warped in some way. Rollert sees this process as somewhat inevitable, and I tend to agree. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the rest have become simulacra, copies of copies, obscuring the facts of their existence. Even those historians who attempt to get at the “facts” of their lives, who repeatedly publish books claiming to debunk false character representations posited by opposing viewpoints cannot seem to avoid their own dips into myth–either in fabrication or in aggrandizement. It strikes me that it may be nearly (if not absolutely) impossible to convey strict accuracies concerning certain historical characters. They become rhetorical instruments, media within media: simulations.