When we stop the dance

The Reith Lectures this year have been given by British author Hilary Mantel.

As an artist working with both materials and ideas about the past Mantel has become an important figure in the conceptual development of my practice.

She recently described the past as not 'behind us but alongside' and for a while I felt this was the closest anyone had come to expressing what ultimately motivates and informs my work.

Now in her series of five in depth reflections she considers her craft as a writer in what she describes as 'resurrecting' the past.

But her main argument calls for the value of the imagined historical narrative as a potent and valid conduit to understanding the past, and how this can complement, rather than conflict, with the historian's role - a seemingly revolutionary notion...

The following section is transcribed from her first lecture 'The Day is for the Living', where she talks about the need to re-create rather than reproduce history, as '99% of supposed evidence' e.g. unrecorded speech, is unavailable to us:


'....Facts are not truth - although they are part of it - and information is not knowledge.

History is not the past: it's the method we've evolved of organising our ignorance of the past.

It's the record of what's left on the record.

It's the plan of the positions taken when we stop the dance to take them down.

It's what's left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it.

A few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth - it's no more the past than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey.

It's the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and reliable witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them.

It's no more than the best we can do.

And often it falls short of that.'


The full list of lectures can be found here: