Wednesday, 17 August 2016

L-istorja u min jiktibha / History bottom-up

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrevedu biċċiet mill-istorja ta’ Malta?

ENGLISH VERSION FURTHER DOWN

REĊENSJONI TAL-KTIEB A Materialist Revision of Maltese History: 870–1919 ta' MARK CAMILLERI (SKS, 2016).

L-istorja nagħmluha aħna waqt li nirrakkuntawha. M’għandniex x’ingħidu, ma noħolqux il-fatti li ġraw. Noħolqu l-għamla li biha juru lilhom infushom lilna skont xi fasla teoretika jew oħra. Fihom infushom, il-fatti huma newtrali. Dak li jagħmlu l-istoriċi huwa li jikkodifikaw il-fatti ħalli jiddeterminawlhom is-siwi narrattiv li jkunu jridu jagħtuhom.

Eżempju tajjeb ta’ dan hija l-pubblikazzjoni l-ġdida ta’ Mark Camilleri, it-tielet waħda tiegħu, jekk mhux sejjer żball. Il-ktieb jipproponi b’mod kuraġġuż, deliberat u intelliġenti r-regoli bażiċi ta’ kodifikazzjoni ġdida għan-narrattiva tal-istorja tal-gżejjer Maltin u l-poplu tagħhom.

Camilleri jersaq qrib ħafna sabiex jagħti raġun lil Theodor Adorno meta dan qal, f’Id-Dijalettiċi Negattivi (1966: 295), li l-“oġġettività tal-fehma”, l-“esperjenza tal-vera oġġettività”, hija aktar evidenti fl-“esperjenza bla lġim” tal-umanità milli fil-“fatti mħejjija mill-geġwiġija xjentifika pożittivista”. Dan għaliex Camilleri jipprova jaqbad din l-esperjenza spontanja tal-poplu Malti matul iż-żminijiet lil hinn mill-interpretazzjoni storiċi tradizzjonali. Fl-istess waqt, Camilleri jipproponi għadd ta’ regoli msejsa fuq prinċipji Hegeljani u Marxisti li bihom, skont hu, għandha tinkiteb in-narrattiva storika Maltija. Huwa b’dan il-mod, jgħidilna, li jista’ biss jinqabad fil-poplu Malti l-‘għarfien tiegħu nnifsu’.

Wieħed m’għandux ikun ħafif iżżejjed biex jiġġudika l-ktieb mid-daqs u t-toqol tiegħu. Il-ktieb mhuwiex kbir. Jekk tneħħi d-daħla twila iżda fundamentali tiegħu, li tammonta għal madwar 40% tal-ktieb kollu, nibqgħu biss b’sitta u tletin paġna ta’ kitba, li fihom, bħalma juri t-titlu tal-ktieb, Camilleri jwiegħed li jżur aktar minn elf sena ta’ storja Maltija. Dan mhuwiex il-każ. Fil-biċċa l-kbira, Camilleri stess juri li din ma kinetx l-intenzjoni tiegħu. Dak li jidher li ried kien li jieħu xi ftit eżempji minn diversi perjodi tal-istorja Maltija bħala appoġġ għat-teorija reviżjonista li jipproponi.

Dan l-iskop seta’ laħqu u seta’ le. Mil-lat tekniku, aktarx kien ikun aħjar li kieku Camilleri qiegħed il-melodija fuq quddiem u l-armonija fuq wara, minflok bil-kontra. Fi kliem ieħor, aktarx kien ikun bil-wisq aħjar għall-qarrej li mhuwiex diġà midħla tat-teorija proposta li kieku Camilleri, flok iffoka fuq l-eżempji meħuda mill-istorja riċerkata filwaqt li ħalla t-teorija fl-isfond, fisser sewwa u fid-dettall it-teorija tiegħu matul il-ktieb kollu filwaqt li jġib każijiet mill-istorja bħala eżempji. Kif għamel, il-melodija tat-teorija donnha tintilef fl-armonija tal-eżempji. Ma kinetx l-armonija li Camilleri ried joħroġ, imma l-melodija. Hemm il-periklu li din ma tinstemax biżżejjed jew sa tintilef għal kollox.

Din tkun ħasra. Dak li Camilleri jipproponi hija reviżjoni sħiħa tal-medda kollha ta’ kif l-istorja tal-gżejjer Maltin ġiet s’issa interpretata u ppreżentata lill-pubbliku. Tassew, mhuwiex l-ewwel wieħed li qed jipproponi dan, iżda ċertament hu l-ewwel wieħed, jidhirli jien, li jissuġġerixxi li dan isir fuq bażi Hegeljana/Marxista. Camilleri nnifsu jindika lil Godfrey Wettinger bħala wieħed li ppropona dan bir-riinterpretazzjoni tiegħu, għalkemm fuq bażi differenti, ta’ żmien l-Għarab f’Malta. Jindika wkoll oħrajn, iżda li ħarġu għonqhom anqas. Ħasra li ma jsemmix ukoll lil Frans Sammut, li tant għamel, b’suċċess li għadu relattiv, biex jirriinterpreta żmien il-Franċiżi f’Malta.

Fi ftit kliem sempliċi, dak li Camilleri jipproponi għar-reviżjoni materjalista tal-istorja tal-gżejjer Maltin huma l-aktar żewġ affarijiet. Waħda, li jkunu l-kundizzjonijiet materjali ta’ kull żmien partikulari li jittieħdu bħala l-katalist tal-bidla, u mhux l-ideat jew id-deċiżjonijiet apparentement arbitrarji ta’ min kien fis-setgħa (li t-tnejn li huma kienu, wara kollox, suġġetti għall-kundizzjonijiet materjali ta’ żmienhom). It-tieni, li l-perspettiva li tittieħed meta tinkiteb narrattiva storika tkun minn isfel għal fuq, jiġifieri waħda li tkun sensittiva għall-biċċiet iż-żgħar tas-soċjetà (għalkemm kbar fil-għadd) li huma subordinati għal dawk akbar fil-proċessi tal-organizazzjoni u l-bidla. Camilleri jsostni li dan l-objettiv doppju jista’ jintlaħaq l-aħjar fi ħdan l-istruttura storjografika tal-ħsieb proposta minn Hegel u Marx.

Dan hu pjuttost ġdid għax-xena Maltija. Mijiet ta’ kotba, jekk mhux eluf, inkitbu fuq l-istorja tagħna, kemm minn storiċi professjonisti u kemm minn mhux. Tista’ tgħid li ebda wieħed minnhom ma ħa din il-perspettiva jew issuġġeriha. Kien ilu li wasal iż-żmien li xi ħadd jagħmel dan għax il-biċċa tal-kotba tal-istorja tagħna, ukoll jekk magħmulin bl-aktar rieda tajba u b’kuxjenza, mhumiex għajr—bħal fil-każijiet taż-żminijiet tal-Għarab u l-Franċiżi li semmejt qabel—tgħawwiġ sħiħ tal-fatti storiċi. Tabilħaqq, il-perspettiva ta’ dawn il-kotba, jew, jekk tixtieq, il-fasla teoretika espliċita jew impliċita fil-bażi tagħhom, tagħmel id-differenza kollha. Dan hu l-punt ewlieni li Camilleri jagħmel b’dan il-ktieb.

Bħalma ntqal diġà, l-eżempji li jġib biex ifisser il-punti ewlenin tat-teorija proposta tiegħu mhux dejjem huma kapaċi. Aktar dak tas-Sette Giugno huwa l-agħar wieħed fosthom. Madanakollu, apparti l-kwestjoni tal-melodija u l-armonija li diġà semmejt, l-aqwa partijiet tal-ktieb huma dawk fejn Camilleri jippreżenta (f’Kapitlu 4) riċerka empirika ġdida u tagħrif li qatt ma ġie mxandar qabel. Dan għandu x’jaqsam mal-Kotba tal-Okkurrenzi tal-pulizija stazzjonati fil-belt Valletta u l-Furjana bejn l-1909 u l-1912, u fl-1918. F’dawn il-kotba, il-pulizija kienu kuljum fi tmiem ix-xift tagħhom iniżżlu dak li għaddew minnu matul il-jum. Huma interessanti ferm, ibaqbqu bil-ħajja u juru ħafna affarijiet fuq il-ħajja Maltija f’dawk iż-żminijiet. Għal dan biss, hu diġà tajjeb li wieħed jixtri l-ktieb.

Imma mhux għal dan biss. Jekk xejn, ix-xogħol ta’ Camilleri jrid jiftaħ l-għajnejn ta’ dawk li jaċċettaw wisq malajr ċerti interpretazzjonijiet tal-istorja, speċjalment dawk li jibqgħu jiġu rrepetuti u rrepetuti qishom kienu xi domma tal-fidi. Il-ktieb huwa wkoll sfida biex noqogħdu b’sebat għajnejn x’kotba tal-istorja qed naqraw.

_____________________________________________________________

Is it time to revise some interpretations of Malta’s past?

BOOK REVIEW: MARK CAMILLERI, A Materialist Revision of Maltese History: 870–1919, SKS, 2016
WE CREATE HISTORY WHILE NARRATING IT. Of course, we do not create past facts or events, but we do create their way of presenting themselves to us according to one or more theoretical frameworks. Facts are per se neutral. What historians do is encode the facts to determine the narrative value which they would like to give them.

Mark Camilleri’s new publication, his third, if I am not mistaken, is not only a good example of this but also a valiant, deliberate and intelligent attempt to propose the basic rules of a new encoding narrative for others to follow when dealing with Maltese history.

If what Theodor Adorno says in Negative Dialectics (1966: 295) holds water, that the “objectivity of cognition”, the “experience of real objectivity”, is more evident in the “unleashed experience” of humanity than in the “prepared facts of the positivistic scientific bustle”, than Camilleri would seem to be on the right track. It is this ‘unleashed experience’ of the Maltese people along the ages, running counter to traditional historical interpretations, that Camilleri sets out to seek in this book. While doing so, he proposes a markedly Marxist and Hegalian set of rules on which such a search should, in his view, be conducted in order to grasp the Maltese people’s ‘self-consciousness’.

One must not be too rash to judge the book by its weight. It is a small book. Excluding the long though fundamental introduction, which amounts to 40% of the whole text, we are left with a mere thirty-six content pages, along which, as the book title promises, we are to revisit more than a thousand years of Maltese history. Of course, this is misleading. In the large part, it does not seem that Camilleri had any intention of doing so. What he seems to have wanted is to draw a few examples from various periods of Maltese history in support of his proposed revisionist theory.

He may or may not have succeeded. Speaking from a technically point of view perhaps it would have been better if he had placed the tune at the fore and the harmony in the background, instead of the other way round. In other words, maybe it would have been more helpful to readers still unacquainted with his proposed theory if Camilleri expounded his theory to the full throughout the essay while drawing examples, and possibly much more than he did, from known history than focusing on the examples themselves and leaving the theory, presented so articulately in the introduction, as an almost imperceptible contextual leitmotif. Camilleri’s main score, it seems, is not the harmony but the tune. And the tune might just be missed.

This would be a pity. What Camilleri proposes is a thorough revision of the entire span of how Maltese history had hitherto been interpreted and presented to the public. He is not entirely breaking new ground in doing so though certainly, I think, the first to suggest such a revision on Hegelian/Marxist grounds. Camilleri himself gives credit to Godfrey Wettinger and his reinterpretation, though on different lines, of Malta’s Muslim period. He also mentions some others who were less audacious in this line of thought. Regrettably, he did not mention Frans Sammut who strove so much, still with relative success, to reinterpret Malta’s French period.

Put in simple terms, what Camilleri proposes in his materialist revision of Maltese history seems to be twofold: one is to take material conditions at any given time as the real catalyst for change rather than ideas or the apparently arbitrary decisions of the powers to be (both of which were subject to prevailing material conditions); and two is to take a bottom-up perspective when narrating history, thus being especially sensitive to those units of society which are small (though quantitatively large) and subordinate to the larger ones in the processes of organisation and change. Camilleri submits that this two-pronged objective is best achieved by adhering to the Hegelian/Marxist historiographical structure of thought.

All of this is quite novel to the Maltese context. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of books have been written dealing with our history, both by professional and non-professional historians, and yet almost none of them have taken this perspective or suggested as much. It also seems high time that someone did so since most histories, though possibly narrated with the best of intentions, amounted—as in the Muslim and French periods mentioned above—to nothing less than pure distortions of the facts. Indeed, the perspective, or, if you like, the explicit or implicit theoretical framework underlying such research works, makes all the difference. This is what Camilleri tries to drive home with this book.

As mentioned above, the examples he draws to illustrate his main theoretical point do not all stand up square and straight. Probably, the Sette Giugno one most of all. However, apart from the tune vs. the harmony issue which I mentioned above, the best parts of the book are probably those where Camilleri presents (in Chapter 4) new empirical research and previously unpublished historical information. This has to do with the Occurrence Logbooks of the police stationed in Valletta and Floriana during 1909 through 1912, and 1918, in which, at the end of their shifts, officers wrote their daily toils and troubles. They are exceedingly interesting, fresh and revealing. For this alone the book is worth a read.

Of course, it is worth more than this. If anything, Camilleri’s work is an eye-opener to beware accepted interpretations of history which have become stale by repetition and a sort of historical dogma. It is also a challenge to double-check our history books.

Appreared in The Sunday Times of Malta, insert Escape, on 31 July, 2016.



No comments:

Post a Comment