History and Theory 45 (October 2006), 349-361
© Wesleyan University 2006 ISSN: 0018-2656
Forum: on Presence
5. PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
the last thirty years have brought about a fundamental revision of historical epistemology. So intense a concentration on the nature of history as a form of inquiry has diminished attention given to the thing that history inquires into: the nature of the past itself. too readily, that entire domain has turned into a place for dreams, as hayden White put it: a lost world only available now through the imagination of the author and subject to aesthetic whim. the next thirty years will, I propose, be the period in which ontology returns to the center of historical theory. and nothing short of the reconceptualization of the past— indeed of time itself—must be its objective. It must achieve that objective, moreover, in establishing arguments that are congruent with what revisions of epistemology have taught us about the limits of historical knowledge and the inevitability of textual representation. this paper enters this field by discussing some of the issues involved in rethinking the place of time in historical constructions since Bergson. It demonstrates the confusions inherent in spatial reductions of temporality, which historians have done so much to entrench rather than eradicate, and argues that historians have yet to accommodate the fundamental conceptual shifts inaugurated by heidegger. It then moves to propose a methodological doctrine to which I have given the name “chronism” and seeks to sketch the utility of such a doctrine for bringing one form of presence—that of authenticity—back into the domain of historical study. doing so invites a number of conceptual and practical difficulties that the paper will address in its conclusions; these may disturb those who have closed their minds to anything beyond the present. taking ontology seriously interferes both with structuralist assumptions about the nothingness of time and with some of the styles of historical representation that have become fashionable in the postmodern climate. there may be painful lessons to be learned if we are to rescue the past from its current status as a nonentity.
In the twenty-five years after 1970 so much was achieved by theorists in revising the epistemological basis of historical work that they understandably lost sight of its object. the past-in-itself became an absence, a nothingness, a page on which to write, a place for dreams and images. a constructed factuality announced itself as the past’s sole presence, representation its only strangulated voice, colligation its distant tyrant. It seemed more pressing to undermine the fatuous confidences of a naïve realism that wanted to depict the past as nothing more inaccessible than a foreign country than to waste time wondering about time itself, its properties and opportunities. But a negative moment chimed in the mid-1990s. Quite
It then makes two proposals. at least tout court. “diejenige vergangenheit. for immensely complicated reasons. W. present. Jaeger. it wants to say that a revival of one neglected conception of ontological authenticity may help us forward more than any recourse to historical truth-claims seems likely to do.” Not heidegger. and thomas Sandkühler (cologne: Böhlau verlag. 1998). It begins with twentiethcentury chronotypes in a search for images of time that have intersected with the historian’s universe. chrONOtyPeS
thinking back over a century’s transformations in the concept of time may appear an indirect route to the future. It is their not-quite-absences that make stories attract to themselves an aura of authenticity.” Quoted in Dimensionen der Historik: Geschichtstheorie. ix. Second. then it seems clear enough that by the millennium the historical community had had enough of absence. and future becomes conceived. 2. but Burckhardt many years before. 1989). eternal patience. John Bender and david e. this paper can do no more than irritate its equanimity. uninspected. and future. a concept on which this paper will want to ruminate. F. Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Geschichtskultur heute. For if the past is never present. but this evolution in theories of time and space bears heavily on the direction that any new chronotype will follow. not despite the directions of the last few decades but because of them.
. an absence. welche deutlich mit gegenwart und Zukunft zusammenhängt. it proposes a methodological doctrine that I call “chronism. Blanke. 1-15. historians have long seen the past as defined by its particularity—“that past whose meaning is connected with present and future. ed. Our new chronotype—the temporal condition that has succeeded postmodernity—will urge us toward a reconceptualization of the ontic. this. It is a helpful shorthand for a complex phenomenon of which previous cultures had some idea even if they did not possess the word.2 Indeed. By the term “chronotype” I mean no more than what Bender and Wellbery meant by it in presenting the papers of the Stanford conference of 1988 on the construction of time:1 a conceptual environment that governs the modes in which the interrelation of past. neither is it. Wellbery. I suspect that. but it will prove fruitless if its fails to see that relocating ontology requires nothing less than a reconceptualization of time itself in its relation to historical awareness and method. “Past” is still out there waiting. “Presence” is a start and a welcome one. First.” and it reflects on some of its advantages and liabilities for a generation recalled to the Ding-an-sich.
II. the prevailing chronotype in the West shifted. Frank ankersmit is surely right about that: the epistemological reorientation was not a distraction from returning to ontology but rather its precondition. it was Burckhardt’s generation that began the process of destabilizing and enhancing conceptions of
1. It is its lingerings in and leanings on presence that frequently constrain colligation in ways that working historians emerging from their archives are always the first to propose and the last to explain.350
simply. present. If we conceive a chronotype as a temporal regime that validates judgments about the relationship between past. h. in its awesome. and rightly so. Where the new journey will take us remains unclear. Chronotypes: The Construction of Time (Stanford: Stanford University Press.
” henri Bergson.6 Where the tradition left a less helpful mark was in its ontological austerity: its refusal to think of time as other than a form of perception or precondition for understanding. a process in which henri Bergson played an important role. Bergson saw the difference in kind between sequence and succession. “Ne pourrait-on pas dire que. M. without including any conception at all of space. a thought that historians with their timelines and graphs have yet to accommodate. 171.” Seamus heaney. if these notes do succeed one another. investing the objects of childhood with a time-soaked potential.. 6th ed. “the Sense of the Past. But he said two crucial things.
. we perceive them all the same as happening within one another. that time cannot be spatialized. e. and validated hints of transtemporal presence in a way that perhaps only Bergson achieved in philosophical prose. this passage is important:
could one not say that. eliot. (the significance of what he wrote may indeed have become obscured by the power of heidegger’s rising sun. though themselves distinct. First. 34. they make his remark a modern one.” Ibid. nous les apperçevant néanmoins les unes dans les autres. and in the novels of Penelope lively. quoique distinctes. 4. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Bradley. Mctaggart in
3. deployed more than poetry in these observations: he had been taught Idealist philosophy at the hands of Josiah royce and (briefly) harold Joachim. 1908). In the anglophone world we think at once of t. he no more believed in the reality of time than had Kant. whose obsession with transtemporal sensibility stands so prominently in much that she has written. dont les parties. No one went further than J. of course. 1969). se pénètrent par l’effet même de leur solidarité? telle est sans aucun doute la représentation que se ferait de la dureé un être à la fois identique et changeant.”5 It has persisted as a trope down to Seamus heaney. et que leur ensemble est comparable à un être vivant.” in History Ireland 1 (1993). S. so far as consciousness was involved. 5. are interpenetrative because of the very force of their “solid” effect? that is certainly the view that turns duration into an entity that is both organic and developing through time. qui n’aurait aucune idée de l’espace. “on s’obstine à juxtaposer dans l’espace les phénomènes qui n’occupe point d’espace. 76. si ces notes se succèdent. For Penelope lively. see below. eliot with his famous fusions: “time present and time past/ are both perhaps present in time future/ and time future contained in time past. and that their totality resembles a living being whose parts. Eliot (london: Faber.  (Paris : Félix alan. heaney recalled objects on the family kitchen dresser as “living a kind of afterlife” so that “a previous time was vestigially alive in them. as we shall see: “people persist in juxtaposing within space phenomena which do not occupy space.4
When we turn from phenomenology to ontology later in this paper.) What Bergson achieved in his short Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience has its relevance a century later. the beginning of “Burnt Norton” in Four Quartets: The Collected Poems and Plays of T.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
time familiar since Kant. vii.”3 Second. S. I hope that this passage will still resonate. and the difference allowed him to build a conception of durée in which temporal moments do not sit side by side with one another but rather interpenetrate as temporal meanings in the way that the notes of a musical score inhabit one another through the course of a phrase or motif. 6. the subject of his harvard dissertation was F. the richness of Idealist thought about time allowed a poetic insight about time itself. h. and he located his analysis within the mind and not outside of it.
a ‘bit of the past’ is still ‘in the present. g. which is also a form of Wann-sein. cf. and thus it is not hard to see why heidegger’s formulations have found little acceptance within the historical community. despite the exegeses of gadamer. 1962).’”8 Many of us try to tell our students to think rather more critically about the assumption of ontological continuity that this passage expresses. the Idealists and phenomenologists allowed time in the world only passively as a sort of unrolling strip of paper. and remained value-neutral about. a vast philosophical literature ensued. yet that community itself carries an equal responsibility for missing an opportunity to engage with ontology at a level above that of
7. Martin’s Press. to their mutual bewilderment. ricoeur. “the river of time. 1966). c. what it recorded and calibrated. Flew  (New york: St. to take one instance. sec. the past belongs irretrievably to an earlier time. Smart. Past time offered record and calibration. it did not interfere with. “the Unreality of time.7 For all their poetic and imaginative strength. equally his lack of commitment to the existentiell left little inducement to say something precise about the content of a heideggerian history. For that confusion heidegger himself bears some responsibility. on which happenings inscribed themselves. it belonged to events of that time. and others. and the closing down of the polarities between subject and object familiar even in latephenomenological thought such as husserl’s. consider this passage from Being and Time: “thus ‘the past’ has a remarkable double meaning. styles of thought that are more receptive to ontological presence. at least potentially. it can still be present-at-hand ‘now’—for instance the remains of a greek temple. thus. the second. but reflected rather on pastness and presentness at a meta-level that struck historians as illusory when they knew about it at all. encompassed at one level the possibility of presence by conceiving “present” as a verb. the first is the revolution in cosmological thinking that encompassed not only the two theories of relativity but also the significant shifts in understanding that would lead toward quantum physics. ed. 8. J. he offered a new conception of present and past. Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell. as on an electrocardiograph machine.” Mind 17 (1908). e. the full significance of what heidegger proposed for historical Dasein. Mctaggart.” in Essays in Conceptual Analysis. For the first time a temporal ontology announced the completion of a chronotype that would run alongside older ones during much of the twentieth century. dreyfus.352
his well-known paper of 1908 in disproving the existence of time—a paper that has proved the most fertile mistake in modern philosophy. is still being worked out. 213-227. came in 1927 with the eruption of Sein und Zeit.378. 430. M. a way of present-ing. With the temple. But his commitment to “anticipatory resoluteness” (vorlaufende Entschlossenheit) stamped his thought with the futurity demanded in living-toward-death. J. 457-474. and better-known to historical theorists. and in spite of that. a. J. Martin heidegger. the placing of time in the world qua ingredient rather than as backdrop made available. against which heidegger famously rebelled. When this chronotype moved toward transformation it did so in respect of two developments. N. for him past and present discovered their authenticity only in its light. critical here is an acknowledgment of time’s insertion into Being as its fundamental possibility for disclosure.
but they trod uneasily around the edge of time because they could not escape the spatialist reduction against which Bergson had argued. by 1973. 11. Francois dosse. In 1950 durée was. I have discussed this transformation in the english case in Michael Bentley. 92-94. ernst Bloch’s notion of “the non-simultaneity of the simultaneous” [die Ungleichzeitigkeit der Gleichzeitigen] looks like a manifesto for presence.” Economica 13 (1933). all those eloquent metaphors that rolled down the Seine after 1950—time as a river with its structural components of l’histoire événementielle. . when le roy ladurie assumed the mantle at the collège de France. for Braudel. these years did not ignore chronology. Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas (london: hutchinson. longue durée—accomplished for a generation the very transformation against which Bergson had pleaded. moyenne durée. It was the foregrounding of space that encouraged Annales to hail the victory of slow temporality. Instead it seized one moment—that of scientific modernism—that became the guiding principle for a professionalizing discipline. come the 1970s and the chronotype shifted almost visibly in the historical work of a post-structuralist reaction.” tawney had beautifully lamented12—proclaimed endless success for the cross-temporal mangling of social variables while manifesting an instinctive hostility to the idea of origins.9 It failed to engage with other important perspectives then available.: cambridge University Press.” was the perceptive remark of François dosse when he reviewed these years in France. successions. did that produce presence? It may seem strange that it did not. time itself as a serious ontological property. for all the contributions of Becker and Beard. “the Study of economic history. tawney. Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925) which became La mémoire collective (Paris: Presses Universitaires. but the reasons that it didn’t should be apparent. epistemological
9. by converting the temporal back into the spatial. Max horkeimer also saw the task of critical theory as one of “remembering” or “recollecting” the past. Il: University of Illinois Press. created a mood with his work on collective memory. 1980). the tyranny of the spatial matrix displaced from historical understanding the power of narrative and the place of temporal assumption in sustaining it. 12. 2005). 19. with important consequences for the direction of historical thought in the middle quarters of the twentieth century. 25. r. See david held. retarding presences. .11 the structuralist darkness of that epoch—“they make a darkness and call it research. as for Braudel. Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism 1870–1970 (cambridge. When the Annales appropriated durée they did not so much assimilate Bergson’s concept as reverse it. but it functioned as a tectonic understanding of time in which temporal structures slid spatially under one another and created false. the call to presence that some see in modern studies of lieux de mémoire was not part of his prescription. or collingwood and Oakeshott.10 but he was careful. this point requires some emphasis because it has not been articulated.” “time almost disappears into space . Maurice halbwachs.
. in a way that his successors have rarely been. eng. New History in France: The Triumph of the Annales (Urbana. 109. “nearly motionless”.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
naïve realism. too. he extended the distance between Bergson’s original conception of durée and that of Annales. the audience was encouraged to welcome “immobile history. Maurice halbwachs. 10. 1950). h. to distinguish memory from history. 1994).
because we cannot live without meaning however coldly we acknowledge that reality is not plotted. and the thought transferred easily to history. 1995) contained a battery of arguments by major critics against entrenched modernism.” she wrote.” Or those moments of retrieval by both character and author of early experiences in egypt: “Past and present do not so much co-exist in the Nile valley. Nancy F. the pack of cards I carry around is forever shuffled and re-shuffled.’13 literary narratives functioned the same way. and that narratives must do the same.15 they also produced a sense of bereavement in a period increasingly obsessed with issues of personal and national identity.16 Most of that literature was weak philosophi13. 1987). Joyce appleby. at once supplying time and expunging it. ed. “we escape chronicity. say. lynn hunt.”14
III. 14. appeared in 1995.354
analysis in the wake of Barthes. Partner. 3. 15. at some point in the mid-1990s a new chronotype emerged that looked in the direction of that beleaguered mentality. It banished the past into nothingness with no power to affect its futures unless memory worked by some process of salvage. 1997). everything happens at once. Foucault. consider Nancy Partner’s sparkling intervention “Making up for lost time” in 1988. I am composed of a myriad claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water. Penelope lively. there is no chronology inside my head. It is also not accidental that narrative also re-emerged during this period. a culminating moment in the reaction against naïve realism. producing a fresh and more sophisticated realism that claimed to have assimilated the teaching of post-structuralism and to have transcended it in an account that left room for an accessible past. 1997). 80. Frank ankersmit and hans Kellner (chicago: University of chicago Press. A New Philosophy of History. a full bibliography of that tendency would be extensive. 1996). tick) or we go mad. “through plot. 16.” we learn. Telling the Truth about History (New york: Norton. 1994). In Defence of History (london: granta. Frank Kermode’s nicely-judged remark—that clocks need to say tick-tock (as opposed to tick. but it took the past away altogether. “Making Up lost time: Writing on the Writing of history. there is no sequence. and Margaret Jacob. Real History: Reflections on Historical Practice (london: routledge. and hayden White had luminous things to say about history-qua-enterprise. When time is nothing but a formless screen.” Speculum 61 (1986). Within the anglophone world consider again Penelope lively and. however. her character claudia hampton’s explosion at the beginning of Moon Tiger (1987): “chronology irritates me. bringing their tock of closure to the plots of history—spoke for its moment. For instances of the new realism. The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past (San Francisco: encounter Books. one apparent from the mid-1980s. see Martin Bunzl. Keith Windshuttle. It is not random that the 1980s and 1990s became the moment of memory in historical writing: memory is what you do when the past has gone—you “present” it through an extra-historical medium. aUtheNtIcItIeS
Now these evacuations of the past and annihilations of time-in-itself had their uses in focusing theorists on the weaknesses of a realist epistemology. especially a narrative that focused on stories told as opposed to stories lived. then historians need to write on it to lend it whatever meaning a present can divine for itself. and time does not say “tick-tock”. Moon Tiger (New york: grove Press. evans. “as cease to have any meaning. richard J. 92.
1998). Thinking Past a Problem: Essays on the History of Ideas (london: cass. in discussing this afterward he said. but it has little attraction for my present purposes. 31-32. the unfolding present is determined by the time it takes for the event that he declares to be “its essence” to unfold. 2000).. I want to keep in mind ordinary languageuse rather than heidegger’s enhanced weight for the term “authenticity” as a form
17.17 this leaves King with the traditional problem of deciding how long the present is supposed to endure.
. to make that move plausible. not least because I suspect that King confuses the persistence of a past with the present currency of memories about it. King. Preston t.” In it King de-problematized the past by making it consist of two dimensions: a “chronological” past that is trivially irretrievable. a distinction between two deployments of the term becomes imperative.’19 I want to ask what is going on in such judgments and to wonder whether temporal ontology has something to do with them. which then solemnly accepted his article for publication. 3. think of a historical novel or film or play or opera. Most pressing in the case for a non-evacuated past was Preston King’s essay “thinking Past a Problem. the past is not chronologically present. alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (New york: Picador USa. King’s answer is a plastic one. he submitted deliberate gibberish to the postmodern periodical Social Text. this new extended present has “body’: its mass is greater than the “mere present” for it infolds part of the past within itself. Moreover. assuming it is not instantaneous. 18. the second meaning is the more obscure and intriguing. how often do we criticize such fictional productions for their lack of “authenticity. 19. Ibid. but it contained a cri de coeur that it would be foolish to ignore. this use of “authenticity” is extremely important to the critical historical method.” Sadly. the first and most obvious deployment relates to provenance and genuineness: the antonym of “authentic” is the medievalists’ favorite adjective. It asserts veracity and confounds falsity. But there is no escaping the fact that much of it is substantively so. My own proposal—the first that I want to offer—is that we revisit the concept of authenticity as a way of enhancing presence without ditching epistemology. “spurious. but they are nonetheless authentic.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
cally.” If I ask whether the hitler diaries are authentic. But no present is entirely divorced from or uninfluenced by the past.” untroubled by the knowledge that we cannot be making the normal style of truth-claim? this meaning of “authenticity” was at work in alan Sokal’s amusing defrocking of postmodern science. Note something important about this sense of authenticity: it rests on a traditional form of truth-claim. 38.18 this contention leads him toward presence: “the past is not present. For we often declare to be “authentic” phenomena that we know to be false. “the passages may be absurd or meaningless. and a “substantive” past that somehow endures into later presents. just as a medieval charter acquires authenticity in this sense when a trained paleographer confirms the date of the hand and external evidence pins the document to its apparent author. the most likely answer will be that they are not because they have been shown to have been forged. I see many ways to escape this conclusion.
. nor is it the “original fancy” of hobbes. in all its appearances it is governed by specific and ascertainable considerabilities. nor is it what coleridge called “primary imagination. and more profoundly through the discourses it presents. of the eighteenth-century” apart from our historical interpretations of them. “immersed” themselves in a previous age.” nor is it the “blind but indispensable link” between sensations and thought which Kant calls imagination. Hans Jonas. some specific passages of it—have a voice. and witnessing introduces the second element at work in the idea of authenticity that I am adumbrating—the presence of imagination. whom he read eagerly. .20 Perhaps three elements interpenetrate in the meaning of authencity that I am outlining. this device has produced more indigestion among modernist generations than it warrants.” historians make great show with such ideas when they feel that they have. But from the vantage point of straining to see presence in a passage of past time. Michael Oakeshott. as it were. then.” American Historical Review 100 (1995). 21. a rootedness in reality. Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt. It is not a condition of thought. and imagination reflects this being. 205-206. Or sometimes it claims authenticity through the transtemporal verities that it communicates. Wood had more of a point than she thought. Quite the same point was made from within conventional common sense when harold temperley. ross is quite right. “not to cre20. and Herbert Marcuse (Princeton: Princeton University Press.22
this puts the matter rather grandly. “grand Narrative in american historical Writing. in one of its modes it is thought. pleaded with historical novelists. See. an act of witnessing the unwitnessed. is neither the fantasia of aristotle. 672. richard Wolin. It is not generic activity. 1967).’21 I see force on both sides of that dispute. because it locates itself effectively in a particular period through its externalities of dress and speech. 22. a play may claim authenticity. In this as much else. “the voice of Poetry in the conversation of Mankind. . the claim of authenticity in this sense moves away from veritas to verisimilitude. case-hardened cambridge historian.” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays  (london: Methuen. as when gordon Wood looked back on one of his books and thought he had “placed the proportions of the story in accord with those of the eighteenth-century. Such pre-inscription still requires an imaginative act by later historians. Sometimes a claim to authenticity rests specifically on an assertion of “period. and this move seems to depend often on allowing a conception of pre-inscribed temporality to enter into the project. for example.356
of Geschichtlichkeit that transcends the world of das Man and the trivialities of an at-hand existence. preceding and providing the materials for special activities. Witness is a being-in-the-world. despite its patent quality of invention. 182-183. Karl Löwith. 2001). dorothy ross. more accurately. From the vantage point that accords time nothing but nothingness. the first relates to time-in-itself because frequently that is the court of appeal in which claims of authenticity find themselves judged. a whisper authentic to themselves that an act of deafness or violence can all too readily eradicate.) an implication of these claims to authenticity is that the past—or.” (It is interesting that Wood ran into trouble from dorothy ross who insisted that “there are no “proportions . I find reassurance in Oakeshott’s reflections:
this activity of imagining.
the peculiar connotations and nuances the mind of a different age would have. 24.24
there are epistemological grounds for fretting over this recommendation. an experience familiar to all modern historians.25 yet various forms of postmodern relativism fail to come to terms with the part of this rapportage that is not mistaken. 146. I believe that it does. So it is based on human sympathy & the understanding heart and it has its sanction in the fact that. or what modernists used to call their “interpretations. Fair.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
ate characters or to imagine events out of keeping with the age they describe. [t]here they can uncover evidence. 1920s?) in “early Writing. . Quoted in John d. the idea that the past somehow speaks for itself. a man can so to speak put himself inside them. but a more recent example occurs in a “practical realist” account in which we are advised that historians “find more than dust in archives and libraries . 251. one that has a place for the presence of the past. . or that there exists in archives some transcription of what the past was really like—one so clear that only perversity or stupidity could take one on a different path. . and ‘see’ patterns in events. the third dimension of “authenticity” is at work when it functions as constraint.
.” So pervasive and powerful is this experience that it led to a familiar modernist mistake.” he goes on:
It means getting ahead sometimes of the recorded fact in comprehending the significance. hunt. almost to obsession.” is that they feel radically unfree in their choice of argument. as his The Practice of History (london: Fontana. 1985). ed.’23 For there to be out-of-keepingness there has to be keepingness: the imagined temporal world that provides one dimension of authenticity in my sense. Telling the Truth about History. handwritten fragment beginning “historical imagination may mean a number of different things. John goldsmith (london: Faber. 20 May 1955.. It was Stephen Spender who later “marvel[ed] at the historian’s imagination more than at the novelist’s or the poet’s.” private collection. the fusion of archive and past complicated and subverted much of geoffrey elton’s historical thought. equally cambridge but less hardened was temperley’s pupil herbert Butterfield whose mind dwelled. . 1969) makes clear. We find the term “constraint” in the third volume of ricoeur’s Temps et récit when he turns to hayden White’s depiction of narrative strategies as forms charged only by imagination or aesthetics:
the concern for “returning history to its origins in the literary imagination” must not lead to giving more weight to the verbal force invested in our redescriptions than to the invitations to redescription that arise from the past itself. Journals 1939–83. the values. touch lives long passed. 1992). on the need for cross-temporal witness. in Spender. Harold Temperley: A Scholar and Romantic in the Public Realm (Newark: University of delaware Press. namely. 25. .” he writes. . even though they are surrounded by a bewildering perplexity of primary “sources.” appleby. lends a plausibility that previous exegesis may have missed. a glimpse of a world that has disappeared .” Journal. “the art. given the condition [and] circumstance of an age. the question is whether returning to an ontology of time. In other words a sort of typological arbitrariness must not make us forget the kind of constraint that the past events exercise
23. . and Jacob. given the current conceptions and categories of thought. “of seeing things through the eyes of a different age from the present. the conviction that the room for maneuver allowed to practicing research historians is not open or unbounded and that it is the past’s traces that supply the confinement.” (n. recasting his own experience into the idiom of a different age.d. 229.
to complete that journey for him we need.
Iv. White later returned to his insistence that “what [historians] actually wrote was less a report of what they had found in their research than of what they had imagined the object of their original interest to consist of. “response to arthur Marwick. and his warnings over reducing that succession to mere sequence through the spatializing of time. Before rushing toward that romantic vision. (chicago: University of chicago Press. and to distinguish that force from random flashes of light and movement caught in l’histoire événementielle. Paul ricoeur. there is a penetrating moment in On Human Conduct that owes far more to hegel than to heidegger yet that keeps ontology in view by reminding those who study events that their objects of study do not sit side-by-side as in a row of beans. 27. the second reverses the spin of a familiar concept and energizes a normative doctrine that I shall call “chronism. SUcceSSION aNd “chrONISM”
Switching the attention of the historical community from epistemology to ontology will itself require the throwing of two switches. Braudel’s thoughts on temporality are scattered through an enormous oeuvre but his inaugural lecture at the collège de France in 1950 provides one focus. Nor is the presence of the past limited to ricoeur’s sub-heideggerian formulations dedicated to keeping the subject and object in the same world.26
“rectification” we can perhaps do without: it implies the consensual road to truth that is a modernist fantasy.358
on historical discourse by way of the known documents. hayden White. by requiring of this discourse an endless rectification. to bring to ontology as much as to mental phenomena the force of succession. to objectify what was subjective in his thought. “Positions de l’histoire. In order to do that. If I may return to Oakeshott.” in Fernand
. in the present context. 1984–1988). Time and Narrative. then ricoeur seems to me justified in saying that the idea of a given present “being affected” by a past remains theoretically defensible and not merely a mantra presented by common experience. 240. But the “arising from the past itself” as a constraining force speaks to my theme of ontological enquiry. We need to do this despite Braudel’s argument that temporal contiguity might be the least important consideration when colligating events: he thought that real connection could subsist across decades or centuries in more powerful ways than it might across minutes or days or months. 3 vols. the first redirects temporal assumptions toward the notion of time-as-succession. III. It opens the possibility of reviving in a more disciplined way taine’s vision of a temporal moment through which the past presses on the present and perhaps “presents” itself in indirect ways. If that thought itself has some force. never reached the heart of historical theory. extending their force beyond their individual instantiation.” Journal of Contemporary History 30 (1995). however. let me sketch my second and final proposal. and I wish more of us would.” emphasis in original. rather they sometimes touch and push one another along like shunting trains. it may be wise to think about the methodological implications of taking seriously the claims of authenticity as a compound of the three elements that I have mentioned. emphasis added.” Our review of twentieth-century chronotypes has shown how Bergson’s insight into the nature of temporal succession in consciousness.27 But
the before-andafter or too early and too late prescribe the inevitable sequences of things that could be called diachronic structures. 29. there are many things that the proposal does not say.’28 as the notes of a musical theme make no sense when seen singly or in reverse order. it does not presuppose the possibility of narratives replicating the past wie es eigentlich gewesen . It follows Frank ankersmit in agreeing that language has an ontological
Braudel.” he says. 15-38. have their diachronic structures. quoting Novick.29 Better if he had said that they are made when they are sensed among traces of the given world. and logics through the mechanism of interpenetrative succession. Real History: Reflections on Historical Practice (london: routledge. institutions. Spacing Concepts (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Martin Bunzl. hermetic events. in his defense of the new realism. Suppose one turned that negative pole into a positive one and moved toward a deeper insistence. not made. 1997). away from the domain of the truth-claim. reinhart Koselleck. it does not deny the imaginative function of the historian. too. one might ask. transtemporal phenomena of all kinds—are what they have been and were what they had been.” printed in Histories: French Constructions of the Past. But. One methodological recommendation that may assist the process demands another switch. In one of his later lectures he announces the point precisely: “as we know. 1995). No such confusion in Koselleck. ed. don’t historians insert the phrase-marks into successions of past events? Of course they do: how else could time achieve the transition to narrative? But the phrase-marks are applied no more arbitrarily than are those that the musician applies to a score lacking those crucial dynamics and fingerings. events. as does “history and the Social Sciences.
. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History. the process consists in a joining together of mind and objects presented before it. and resonances that make a phrase-mark or dynamic inevitable.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
Braudel believed this precisely because he had spatialized time into sequences of atomic. 1969). 2002). the longue durée. Jacques revel and lynn hunt (New york: the New Press. it does not contend that all passages of the past are amenable to a chronistic reading. thereby losing sight of the very durée he was supposed to be celebrating. so also the continuities. 115-145. that their pasts could literally present themselves as indirect forces. everyone is familiar with the negative notion of anachronism: avoidance of the insertion into a historical argument of evidence that is temporally inappropriate to its subject. impetuses. that historians should be looking for such moments in their search for ontological authenticity. but on the presence of chronism. It does not advocate a return to naïve realism. 9. “sequences of events are not incidental. not on the absence of anachronism in our thinking. 28. remain plural and discursive. Ecrits sur l’histoire (Paris: Flammarion. it does not outlaw the multiplicity of narrative construction. entwinings. ripping events from the succession that has made them what they are and transferring them to some cardboard synthesis constructed in the name of comparative structural analysis. “Shapes in the past are found. this proposal envisions temporal succession as a constitutive feature of the world and declares that historical entities—people. the sensing is neither easy nor univocal because temporal authenticities. that historians should cease carrying out acts of temporal rape. 124.” Martin Bunzl wrote.
intratemporality—in terms of decreasing primordiality and of increasing authenticity—will be an obstacle to the resources of conditionality—and in this sense of legitimacy—that flows from the foundational to the founded instance” (355). historicity. after all. as the master explained. We all got here. one trembles over what a moment of reticence would look like. rather as it did a century ago when Idealist thought ran into friction with reality. the timely theoretical challenge consists in asking whether this project makes sense. I hope. the problematic for ontological discussion lies precisely in the very different contentions that a past—any past— is neither a vacuum nor a pre-constituted narrative. a project of within-timeness. chronism: three pebbles in a pond that we are only just encountering and whose depths we have yet to reach through conceptual analysis and through. because the prevailing chronotype has changed. but there is another sense of authenticity that is inextricably linked to attending to the presence of the past. reconceiving time is only the first move on that journey but we shall go nowhere promising until we accomplish it. embedded narrative available for the historian passively to report. listening a little more to the archive rats whom theorists too readily despise. It follows david carr in thinking that the world has a temporal grain like timber. Memory. this requires not that we lower epistemological hurdles that have taken such pain to erect. But we need not follow him in declaring that a study that seeks to make present the past of what he called “vulgar” time lacks authenticity. If this is ricoeur unabashed. Forgetting (chicago: University of chicago Press. It may lack authenticity in his sense. history is. History. the rewards are potentially great. when they can. so much as a process of Aufhebung that will put the past back in the “world” and that will relocate historians. Where that argument will go over the next twenty years I cannot say.
. 376-382. ricoeur recently argued that we must return to the workshop of history and take with us some doubts about the helpfulness of the heideggerian disparagement of Innerzeitigkeit.
v. 2004). epistemology has reached and passed its negative moment and we are off on a new journey to reconnect ourselves with a reality that once seemed forever evacuated. It may be that by 2030 the striving of the past thirty years will appear as the necessary prolegomenon to a radical rethinking of historical ontology that will renew the dialectical relationship between subject and object that our generation has often relinquished. succession. it swings away from him when he conceives reality as a vacuum. “to put it unabashedly. See in particular his reflections on Geschlichtlichkeit in Paul ricoeur. it retreats from him when the grain is made to sound like a pre-existing. so that they cease to be spectators beached on an ever-retracting present. but rather is a more-thanabsence that historians seek.30 But so dominated was he by the majesty of heidegger’s thought that he never extricated himself from that vision.360
pull. theory must change with it. to make present in evocation. too.” that “the hierarchical ordering of temporal instances in Being and Time—fundamental temporality. But we shall miss a significant opportunity if we decide to leave our heads in the 1980s and hope that the world will come back to us. In that case the theoretical
30. he also expresses a fear. cONclUSION
University of St. if only for having decided to allow time itself to become interesting. Andrews. Scotland
.PaSt aNd “PreSeNce”: revISItINg hIStOrIcal ONtOlOgy
community may look forward to an interesting time.