Thursday, November 20, 2008

American History

The National Museum of American History reopens tomorrow (21 November) as Americans hopefully anticipate the conclusion of a dark chapter of American history.  President Bush spoke at the dedication of the new and improved museum yesterday, praising the patriotism and educational value of the institution.  Soon, his administration will be a series of artifacts chronicled on the walls of museums and in the pages of history books.  

How would you curate an exhibit documenting the last eight years of America?  How and what should we remember?  Which details need be incorporated into our national biography?

How will our recent history be retold internationally?  With wide-spread international support for our President-Elect, how will this narrative change?

As we continue to process these and other questions of national identity, I offer international insight in Pablo Neruda's constructively critical poem on America's foreign conduct and responsibilities.

America, I Do Not Call Your Name Without Hope

America, I do not cal your name without hope.
When I hold the sword against the heart,
when I live with the faulty roof in the soul,
when one of your new days
pierces me coming through the windows,
I am and I stand in the light that produces me,
I live in the darkness which makes me what I am,
I sleep and awake in your fundamental sunrise:
as mild as the grapes, and as terrible,
carrier of sugar and the whip,
soaked in the sperm of your species,
nursed on the blood of your inheritance. 

"America, I Do Not Call Your Name Without Hope", Pablo Neruda as translated by Robert Bly.  As appears in Carolyn Forché's Against Forgetting (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1993).

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