A leading intellectual member of France's Freudian school, Michel de Certeau combined principles from the disciplines of religion, history, and psychoanalysis in order to redefine historiography and rethink the categories of history. In The Writing of History, de Certeau examines the West's changing conceptions of the very role and nature of history itself, from the seventA leading intellectual member of France's Freudian school, Michel de Certeau combined principles from the disciplines of religion, history, and psychoanalysis in order to redefine historiography and rethink the categories of history. In The Writing of History, de Certeau examines the West's changing conceptions of the very role and nature of history itself, from the seventeenth-century attempts to formulate a "history of man" to Freud's with which de Certeau interprets historical practice as a function of mankind's feelings of loss, mourning, and absence. Exhaustively researched and stunningly innovative, is a crucial introduction to de Certeau's work and is destined to become a classic of modern thought....
|Title||:||The Writing of History|
|Number of Pages||:||368 Pages|
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The Writing of History Reviews
de Certeau sees history as a way of organizing the present, only de Certeau sees the rise of reason as the rise of modern forms of legitimacy. This includes the state as a way of unifying the social body even while its mythos are downplayed. In that sense, de Certeau is like Wittgenstein in trying to unravel history -- only instead of functionalism as an ontological basis -- de Certeau sees practice (history and institutional) as the mode of social organization. We get then, a series of different cuts of practice, creating a nexus of etic/emic justifications none of which capture the whole but only reify aspects of practice as being historically legit. The writing of history is thus an attempt to justify certain social unity with a certain social organization.What's interesting is that de Certeau introduces psychoanalysis as a way form of historic self unity. Certainly Freud attempted to use psychoanalysis to grasp the becoming of subjectivity from its own displacement. De Certeau does the same thing; the displacement within history's own narrative is the ideological jump that allows the justification to be snuck in there. When we find gaps within our facts, we fill in the causes negatively as a retroactive justification. This is an interesting "return" that occurs when what was grounded as being legit is brought to the present day as an analogy.I think de Certeau could have been a little more organized in his presentation. He starts off seeking to question the method of historic discourse, finding it to be ideologically heavy. The reductive approach is always biased; but how we explain events as a composite of causes ties us back to John Stuart Mill's inquiry of ratiocination; more a philosophy of science than a philosophy of history. From there, he takes us to how writing and speech impact meaning and then presents psychoanalysis as a way of dissolving the discourse of meaning through inconsistencies in the structure of the discourse itself.All in all, this is a kind of transitional piece, entering into postmodernism but still haphazardly incorporating elements of modernism. De Certeau ends on a question in a sense, not certain if he has said anything. If he attempted to cut the discourse in terms of what is meant to be explanation or truth, or at least divided the line between where ideological enters, we may have gotten a more useful view. To some degree, not having a use of this cut in ideology -- that is to talk about the modern institution itself -- may hinder us for understanding what he is saying. If we have no strong reason to question history we may in fact find ourselves finding this text to also be of weak relevance to us. In that sense, de Certeau still writes in a modern modality; detached from the present day concerns which would inform how we would also read his text.
As an American student of non-Western religions, I am struck by the parallels one can draw between this book and de Certeau's "Practice of Everyday Life," between Foucault (early and later) and Bourdieu. (And Benjamins' "Theses" when he starts to wax poetic about death and such). But I'm curious about what someone more interested in a) the Early Modern pd in France and b) History of Religions of 20th c. France might get out of this book. I.e., someone who reads or engages with Lucien Goldmann's "The Hidden God," the annales school, and those historians of the medieval and early modern that succeed them.The book, predictably enough, is written at both a high level of abstraction and firmly rooted in the concrete details of 17th c. There is always a play between history (the product; historie; the thing narrated) and history (the practice; geschichte; the narration). There are few accusations of opponents' shoddy historical work - in a strange way, the second part of the book seems to take on the role of History writing itself, trying to catch a glimpse of its own tale. E.g., it's not that Marxists are entirely wrong...I like that he stands between naive historicism and the relativism of postmodern abandon (surely a fable). Yes, the present is not the past, and our historical situation forces us (other historians, unconscious of the ideologies working through them) to see the past in certain circumscribed ways. But yes, the past has its effects on the present; archaeology can show how historical practices were earlier incarnated as theologies and religious practices.The third part of the book are three semiologies: one of Jean de Léry's travel diary to Brazil (1578), one re-evaluating de Certeau's earlier work on the possessions at Loudun (1630s), and another listing out characteristics of the hagiographic genre.The fourth part of the book are two studies of Freud's writings on history. (which i haven't read yet.)What is at stake for de Certeau? I'm not entirely sure. On the one hand, there's the romanticization of the recovery of / dialogue with the Other (the forever past / passé; the peasant; the uneducated; the insane; the possessed; the Indian). And on the other, there's the romanticization of Medieval France, before the Light came, as a wholesome self-reproducing totality before "religion" and "politics" and "the masses" and "the elite" ran off in different directions. What can I say? The man believes in the Lacanian Real; something Other that's gotta be there, but is always just out of reach...Conley provides a pretty sweet intro explaining his translation tricks, how to keep MdC's prose allusive and ambiguous.
It's a good work, and a number of his thoughts are cutting edge. He's writing just before Said, and a great many of his observations are on the verge of the soon to blossom postcolonialism inaugurated by Said. It is somewhat disjointed in being a collection of his essays (with some new ones), and it's rough going--this is due mainly to its incredibly erudite and informed discussion of historiography connecting with a whole range of French thinkers of the mid 20th century. His thesis of sorts, that history has in many ways become/replaced the scripture of modern society, has only been expanded and developed since de Certeau wrote this work. Similarly, Ricoeur and Hayden White (the latter writing just before de Certeau) both advance the relationship between history/historiography and literature/fiction. In a sense, it is this relationship which is foundational to literary theory (in as much as theory eschews the dichotomy wherein herein represents while literature creates). Still, a helpful work, and it's a shame that he died so tragically before being able to further the project with which he was here concerned. Later discussion with Ricoeur might have been instructive and illuminating.
ever come across someone who says what you think? it's so hard for me, but here is a man that does. really, if this man were still alive, i'd go to him and prostrate myself in front of him."thus historians can write only by combining within their practise the "other" that moves and misleads them and the real that they can represent only through fiction."i am reading this book for an essay on the myth of secularism. i have wanted to write this essay for 2 years, for i realised, about 6 months into a degree in the study of religions, that i could never write honestly and with justice of the Other, until i understood the "other" that dwelled within me. and that "other", as a westerner, is a christian. so then, this book was chosen to show me how to rid myself of the "other", so i might see the Other on their own terms, with their own questions. i don't think i'll ever get to that though. as usual, i find the depths of myself far too interesting to move on...
in French --- and I don't like Bookshelfs sugestion that I may like to read Hayden White --- indeed, both scientists (Certeau and White) get in search for discourse, meaning and the idea of the historical, but in a quiet different way. Certeau is lucid and basic at the same time to everyone who wants to investigate the historical or is doing hostorical research: read and find yourself (or the absence in finding tout court) - oh yes, this (Certeau) is about abscence (i.o. history) and how to relate to abscende (in a social as well in a scientific way).
Brilliant. Dense, and/but brilliant.