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Saturday morning quotes 3.25: Reflections

November 2, 2013

“When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide, the system breaks down.”

- Barbara W. Tuchman

The conceit of looking to the past as a reflection of ourselves at the present time seems apropos. Barbara Tuchman’s book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978) offers a realistic balanced narrative that describes the idealized historical world we like to imagine as no more than a fantasy.  The reality is that the past was much like the present, and what we know of it is entirely dependent upon who is reporting and what is their motivation.

After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening – on a lucky day – without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold” (or any figure the reader would care to supply).

- Barbara W. Tuchman

If the person doing the reporting (or the corporate person) is motivated by commercial interests, history is described in idealized terms that will result in the selling of an idea or of a product.  Sadly, most people choose to believe the sales talk and buy the idealized image, no matter how far from reality it may be.  The quote at the beginning of this post says it all.

As applies to the perception and packaging of early music today, people prefer the artificial “psycho-acoustic nightmare” recorded sound that allows them to imagine a lutenist performing a few feet away, yet producing a sound imbued with cathedral-like resonance. And they prefer to have it all for free.

On the other hand, we find that people who bestir themselves and attend a live performance of our music want to hear more of the real thing.  We are more than happy to oblige.

We leave you with one more quote from Barbara Tuchman that describes her discovery of a land untouched by reality.

…When [A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century] came out, I was to go down to Texas because my publisher said, “Dallas it’s the place to do some program”. And they wanted to do a telephone interview before I came. And I don’t like telephone interviews. But anyway, Texas always gets its way. The fellow said, you know, why had I called it a mirror, the usual question. And I said, “Well, I thought there were similarities in our time of disintegrating institutions and a sense of forces beyond our control and standards collapsing and norms all giving way and general distress”. “Oh”, he said…”We don‘t feel that way in Texas!”

- Barbara W. Tuchman

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