Monday, August 10, 2009

Calling forth Eurydice

I've just finished reading the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which was not quite what I'd expected it to be, but compelling reading all the same. The blurb on the back describes it as 'Moving, vivid and terrifying' which it certainly was, and while that didn't make it particularly enjoyable to read it was deeply engaging.

There is a passage at the very end describing the limits of history, what we can know about the past, and what we will never be able to know, which I thought was expressed very beautifully:

Our document, though in its own way eloquent, is on these subjects mute. We may call Eurydice forth from the world of the dead, but we cannot make her answer; and when we turn to look at her we glimpse her only for a moment, before she slips from our grasp and flees. As all historians know the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.

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