There’s a few pop songs that strike me as containing some great nuggets of social theory, and so they stick with me — such as a line about nostalgia from Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” (that I once blogged about here). Another is Semisonic‘s 1998 hit “Closing Time.”
Don’t know it? Give it a listen, below, while you’re reading. You’ll remember it.
It’s a simple song about the last dance and the last call, and what might happen afterward…, if you’re lucky, I guess. While its “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” line may have stuck in some people’s minds, for me it was another, at the end of the song:
Every new beginning
comes from some other
This, to me, is a pretty significant statement of what we might call a historical consciousness; for here we have the late Edward Said‘s distinction between origins and beginnings, all wrapped up in a catchy one-hit-wonder’s guitar riffs.
For as Said writes:
beginning is basically an activity which ultimately implies return and repetition rather than simple linear accomplishment, that beginning and beginning-again are historical whereas origins are divine…. (Beginnings, xvii)
As he uses these two key terms, beginnings are active whereas origins are passive (see his discussion of this on page 6) — i.e., something supposedly just originates (Poof!), somewhat akin to how scholars a few centuries ago (or, perhaps, Creation Science advocates today?) thought things like flies came into being (a theory — if that’s even the right word — known as spontaneous generation) as opposed to the way we commonly use the word “beginning,” as in “A was the beginning of B,” a use that puts the emphasis not on the result (Ta-Daaaa!) but, instead, on the various preconditions and the process itself.
In a word, its contingency all the way down.
So this is what I mean by a historical consciousness, and its what I hear in that lyric — not a sense for, or appreciation of, the past or some mystical sense of samsara, but, instead, the more basic posture that holds that our object of study, as scholars, is always the prior, possibly happenstance, factors that made it possible to talk or act or think or organize in this or that way now.
That’s what it means to historicize something, at least as I use the term. For everything comes from something, though it might not always be apparent to us.
So gather up your jackets…