donderdag 13 september 2012

“There is a well known, so-called sophism of the ancients consisting in this, that Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise he was following, in spite of the fact that he traveled ten times as fast as the tortoise. By the time Achilles has covered the distance that separated him from the tortoise, the tortoise has covered one tenth of that distance ahead of him: when Achilles has covered that tenth, the tortoise has covered another one hundredth, and so on forever. This problem seemed to the ancients insoluble. The absurd answer (that Achilles could never overtake the tortoise) resulted from this: that motion was arbitrarily divided into discontinuous elements, whereas the motion both of Achilles and of the tortoise was continuous.
(…) To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. But to arrive at these laws, resulting from the sum of all those human wills, man's mind postulates arbitrary and disconnected units. The first method of history is to take an arbitrarily selected series of continuous events and examine it apart from others, though there is and can be no beginning to any event, for one event always flows uninterruptedly from another.
The second method is to consider the actions of some one man — a king or a commander — as equivalent to the sum of many individual wills; whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed by the activity of a single historic personage.
(…) The historians, (…)  lay before us the sayings and doings of a few dozen men in a building in the city of Paris, calling these sayings and doings"the Revolution"; then they give a detailed biography of Napoleon and of certain people favorable or hostile to him; tell of the influence some of these people had on others, and say: that is why this movement took place and those are its laws.
(…) To study the laws of history we must completely change the subject of our observation, must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals, and the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are moved. No one can say in how far it is possible for man to advance in this way toward an understanding of the laws of history; but it is evident that only along that path does the possibility of discovering the laws of history lie, and that as yet not a millionth part as much mental effort has been applied in this direction by historians as has been devoted to describing the actions of various kings, commanders, and ministers and propounding the historians' own reflections concerning these actions.
from Lev Tolstoy “War and Peace”

We, Dimi & Karsten, believe that this fragment by Tolstoy gives us the legitimacy to call ourselves historians. We will form an infinitesimal tiny ‘army’ that will go in search of tiny human elements that will link us, during 52 days, with the simple soldiers that formed Napoleons ‘incredibely shrinking army’ (from 600.000 to 35.000 in six months time). In our conversations with Russians, Belarusians and Lithuanians, we will try to grasp those tiny human elements that link those people to the peasants and serfs of the days of 1812.
To all those who say: “who cares what happened then, let’s look at now”, our answer is “Now is an arbitrarily division of a discontinuous discourse, but can become part of a continuous movement of you accept it as being part of then”. Our quest for then in now will start on the 16th of October, the day we will leave Moscow and head southwest, two tortoises trying to catch up with Achilles. 

(this and other images on this website are based on gouaches by Faber du Faur, a Wurthenburger officer who followed Napoleon through his Russian campaign)

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