Here at The Unstitute, micro-history interleaves with micro-narrative. The Samuel Gray Society – an archival project dedicated to the memory of Samuel Gray, who holds the honour of the first man to be killed during the Boston Massacre in 1770 – weaves a curious admixture of mythology, disinformation, speculation and history to produce contingent histories and relative lives,investing Sam Gray, as cipher, with world-historical sense.
“The Samuel Gray Society www.samgraysociety.org officially went live online in 2009 as an educational organization dedicated to the preservation of 18th century American history and to the biography of Samuel Gray, the first man killed in the Boston Massacre. The SGS is a vehicle I created to investigate the historic record of our nation’s founding in an autofictional format. The term autofiction refers to the synthesis of fiction and autobiography, and is used frequently in literary strategies. The website currently contains twenty-three pages of written historic research with citations, a visual archive of over fifty-five individual works of art, a print suite, an archaeological excavation, a related political action committee, and four videos, including a thirty-minute documentary on the Revolutionary history of the Hudson Valley, NY.
To quote the historian M.I. Finley in his book Ancient History, “Accuracy and truth are not synonymous…”. He refers to the gaps in our knowledge, and the tenuous nature of truth and scholarship with respect to the past—a past that is both inaccessible and interwoven with various prejudices both conscious and unconscious. I present my work in such a way as to make clear the role of questioning and critically examining information as a method for understanding ourselves and reasoning the world around us.
Language is very important. By substituting words such asbelieve for know, and using verbs such as presume as opposed todetermine, I intentionally deny specificity and avoid the rigors of objective verification or any scientific methodology. These phrases have the added value of appearing as honest, ubiquitous and innocent synonyms for more exacting language, a curiosity that all successful politicians have learned in their spin classes. Belief is not a substitute for verity…in fact, to replace either word for the other demeans each equally. But in truth, it happens everyday, and I have learned that one can say a great deal about very little and get by quite well.
It is undeniable that we now live in an era increasingly rationalized through relative truths, which are natural and in many ways beneficial by-products of pluralism and post modernism. This is reflected in the reality that today, it is possible for you to have your truth and I to have mine. Just as there is your news source and there is my news source, each cooking their information according to our appetites. And of course, as a result of this, there is your version of history and there is mine. Almost nothing is known about the life of Samuel Gray, which is why I chose him, and like a poet or playwright, or for that matter, a judge, a general, a preacher, or a senator, I intend to insert my narrative where there is an opening. In this way, history is an act of creation–a ripe mixture of certitude and mythology.
A renaissance of amateur 18th century American historicism can be clearly evidenced today in the amorphous factions of Tea Party affiliates throughout the country. The sloganeering of these party platforms is intentionally romantic, lofty and vague, and presumes a more distilled noble age of American exceptionalism somehow bound in the era of our founders. It is a more conspicuous example of history as fiction than I could ever conjure, for even as they demand liberty, their nostalgia forsakes among other things the presence of slavery and sexism that would impede the freedom of 60 percent or more of the American population. And herein lies the rub, and the danger–that narratives of historical relativism frequently operate not by rewriting history, as many critics erroneously point out, for that requires too active and too conspicuous a role in the drama. Rather, historical relativism often operates through a selective shopping for facts to support a pre-existing view, leaving contradictions, complications or obstacles that get in the way of tidy conclusions on the shelves to expire like bad milk. Of course the irony in this, is that it is this very openness of history that created the possibility of pluralistic art. What Arthur Danto calls “posthistorical” is the state of contemporary art wherein it answers to no external precedent or qualifications outside of itself.”