Edmund Wilson, violence, the Civil War, and me. A conversation and reverie

To practice history is to converse with the past. Yet historians, many of whom readily admit to intimate relations with their subjects, prefer to conceal the dialogue. Other than Erik H. Erikson, who in a 1969 book openly addressed Mohandas Gandhi, few scholars have laid bare the interaction between present and past, studier and the studied. History is crafted in such exchanges with the evidence. This article begins to probe the lessons, frustrations, and revelations of a historian's dialogue with the dead. Here, a conversation with Edmund Wilson, the famed American literary critic and unacknowledged student of violence, is wrought from his writings. Together historian and subject probe the bounds of American violence and the Civil War to understand how violence shapes the past and how the past shapes understandings of violence.