Thursday, 12 March 2009


Harriet Harvey Wood's The Battle of Hastings: the Fall of Anglo Saxon England expresses (in Tom Shippey's words) the author's view 'that the wrong side won on 14 October 1066: Anglo Saxon England was more civilised than William's Normandy.'

Maybe this is true, but I wonder if its mere residual Historical Whiggism in me that thinks there's something worse than pointless (worse because liable to feed ressentiment) about that sort of judgment. Asserting that with 1066 England would have 'skipped the middle ages altogether and jumped straight to the Renaissance' is fine Alternate History SF, and to the extent (it's quite a wide extent) that all History is a form of Alternate History SF, that's obviously OK. But this is to concede the SF angle. The broader point is the danger of valorising the Anglo-Saxon world, when you yourself--yes I'm talking about you sir, madam--would have hated living there. Accepting this, means acknowledging that the fact that 'Saxon' has now in effect become a code word for 'white yellow-haired racist' is also grounded in a creative appropriation of the past to the present (this is not to assert that the Anglo-Saxon world wasn't racist, because it pretty much was: but it is to insist that today's white yellow-haired racists would have hated living there. And for a great many reasons.)

In a related point: why, I wonder do my fingers stray when I try to type Saxon to spell out instead Sazon?

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