Theorizing History or How to Rethink Theory of History through Questions
Theory of history is in the details
In his artwork Collage ou lʼâge de la colle (Collage or the Age of Paste), Man Ray confronts us with the question of when historical ages and thus caesurae are marked and along what criteria. What if paste were to be raised to a category of historical time structuring analogous to the stone, iron or bronze age? After all, its technical relevance is immense, and not only for members of the avant-garde in the arts. Is Man Ray doing “Theory of history” in his artwork?1
While probably no one is surprised today that reflection on the geological time category of the Anthropocene is also a topic of theory of history, the paste question posed at the beginning may appear to some as a provocation. The idea is to trigger fundamental questions: What exactly is the theory of history field of enquiry? Who is authorized – implicitly or explicitly – to reflect? In or through what medium(s) or field(s) does this take place?
In my understanding, theory of history cannot be reduced to the theory, singular or plural, of history or historiography. Rather, I see it as a reflexive practice, as theorizing about history in a threefold sense. Firstly, about history not as the past, but as a medially constructed unified meaning of what happened, or as the irreducible pluralism of meaning. The open question here is whether and, if so, how it is possible that a plural (postcolonial) historiography practice allows for the postulation of different, if not irreconcilable, formations of meaning. To claim that the meaning is merely the result of rhetorical argumentation defers but does not solve the question.2 This leads to the second sense of history, namely history as a media differentiated representation of pasts, one that transports traditional meanings and produces new meanings via research questions, categories, concepts, remains, and narrative structures, as well as via theoretical reflections that precede, accompany and follow up on the historical work. Thirdly, I am concerned with history in the sense of a practice of enquiry, defined by the methods, practices and approaches used, and in turn recognized as legitimate by a particular community. Hence this question goes hand in hand with determining which “community” approves of the (traditional) set of rules: the collective of professional historians, those working in professional fields dealing with history (museum or exhibition curators, artists, filmmakers, history teachers, etc.), societies influenced by western ideas of history, or at least some of these societies?
Understood in this way, Man Ray’s artwork is indeed part of this reflexive practice.
Theory of history unbound
With this compressed offer of a definition of the field of “theory of history”, I intend to counteract a number of constrictions that are all too often the result of the search for disciplinary identity or self-positioning in this field. Firstly, I do not confine theorizing to engagement with a corpus of theories produced in the field of philosophy or history. Without denying this corpus its relevance, my thinking also includes fragments of theories and reflections from other cultural fields, as well as exogenous theories (for example, from sociology, ethnology or literary studies). Secondly, I do not equate theory of history with a specific set of topics, whether it is the question of meaning in history (the classic question in the philosophy of history), the question of the narrative preformation of historical thought,3 or the epistemological question of its methods and approaches4 or of the structures of time.5 I argue that thinking about history must be problem-oriented and permit all manner of questions related to it, beyond fleeting time-bound or even fashionable topic formations. This expansion is the precondition for engagement with theoretical questions that first emerge while examining sources and remains. In other words, historical-theoretical questions can – and indeed should – be triggered by empirical research work.6 The questions that become part of the field of enquiry pertaining to theory of history are thus potentially infinite and cannot be determined in advance. Thirdly, since history is not only produced by historical scholarship, but also takes place in non-academic contexts that are – far more often than we like to admit – in osmotic relation to one another, I consider it crucial to think about these other forms of historical meaning-making.7 Moreover, history is also produced in other disciplines, from archaeology to cosmology, and in other time scales, so that a joint reflection of these disciplines would be desirable, above the (ontological and epistemological) status of the small section of human history. Fourthly, I distance myself from the exclusivity of writing as a medium for reflection or representation of historical theoretical thought, as shown in the artwork of Man Ray. Finally, in offering a definition, I take leave of the immediate utilitarian expectations occasionally harboured of theory of history: it should provide theories that historians merely have to apply in order to produce “better” stories.
What then is the need for theory of history?
Theory of history: simultaneously an aid and a disturbance
Theoretical activity, thinking about history in its threefold sense, can steer – supposedly blind — empirical research by offering a set of tools to select, access and grasp historical material. Determining the research question or historical fact to be investigated is already a hybrid operation involving theoretical anticipations or presuppositions and empirical work on the “historical material”. In other words, history without theory is quite simply unthinkable. The bread of empirical work has always been soaked in the water of theory.
But theory of history can, and indeed should, also operate as a continuous disturbance or alarm signal that wakes historians up or keeps them awake in their research work from start to finish. It sounds the alarm in the face of unscientific presuppositions and beliefs, implicit ideologems and imprecise terminology, and warns, for example, of problems and cases of ethnocentrism. With repeated questioning and scrutiny, it will not allow historical researchers respite. Hence one aim of theory of history is to produce a critical historiography and an alert awareness of one’s own positionality.
After all, what is the point of critical history?
Having history(ies) and representing history(ies) is an anthropological need that enables and conditions the action and orientation of communities in the present and in the future. Based on this assumption, there must be at least a minimal collective consensus on the rules and standards of how history(ies) is produced. This holds true as long as history is not a private matter and keeps to the claim of being shared by and valid for a community (consisting of at least two individuals). This minimal consensus provides that the production of history(ies) is generated with methods that are as transparent as possible, accessible and therefore verifiable materials, all on the basis of critical reflection on one’s own positionality and theoretical approaches, and that the resultant interpretations – via the same procedure – can be criticized and revised. Additionally, there is consensus that these operations can be learned and that anyone can (and has the right to) acquire the specific skills in public institutions such as schools and universities, regardless of (social) origin or cultural background. We should bear in mind that a critical, methodological approach to the past in a broad sense should be seen as an accomplishment, which in the case of Europe began as early as the sixteenth century. It served to regulate discourse on the past, which was no longer to be based on statements by authorities that were not susceptible to verification and were guided by interests, but on statements verifiable by all parties. Although this was an ideal concept and to some extent has remained so, it sought emancipation from traditions and narratives set by authorities, on the one hand, and averted the danger of falling into the trap of historical scepticism, on the other.8
Critical historiography has therefore taken – and continues to take – a vital stance against authoritarian, unverifiable interpretations of the past that attempt to control the present and the future of collectives. Whether these critical, method-guided operations can still be considered those best suited to produce histories that can be shared by many people or must at least be seen, given postcolonial critique, as those that have silenced certain representations of the past and continue to prevent them from coming to the fore, is a question that remains the subject of heated debate.
In this situation, theory of history must turn to reflections that affect the field of ethics and consequently the field of philosophy. Any consideration of why a methodically regulated and reflected historiography is good must take into account coexistence in pluralistic societies, which leads us to ask under what conditions this coexistence could function well. In the final analysis, it is nothing less than the question of what is good. This, after all, is the raison d’être of theory of history.
Reflection on this last question, however, should be preceded by self-reflection on one’s own positionality as a theoretician of history, almost an anthropological self-exploration as an epistemological instance in time and space.9
To be continued…
This article is the revised and extended version of a keynote speech given by the author on the occasion of the public blog launch on 4 November 2021 at the Centre for Theories in Historical Research at Bielefeld University. More information on this event and the podium guests here.
Lisa Regazzoni became Professor of Theory of History at Bielefeld University in June 2020. Her research focuses on the theory and epistemology of historical remains, the mediality of history and modes of representation of the past. She studied philosophy and history at the Universities of Bologna and Heidelberg, and received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Potsdam in 2006. After numerous fellowships in Paris (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Centre Alexandre Koyré, German Historical Institute Paris, École des hautes études en sciences sociales), in London (German Historical Institute) and Princeton (Institute for Advanced Study), she obtained her habilitation in Modern History at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2020.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
- I first posed the question in a tweet on the editorial Twitter account @GeTheorie on 14 October 2021. Although this social platform is primarily used for sharing information, networking and self-promotion, our editorial team is keen to launch discussions in the form of questions on historical theory as a field of enquiry. See Geschichtstheorie am Werk (@GeTheorie), URL: https://twitter.com/GeTheorie (23.11.2021). [↩]
- In my opinion, the arguments put forward by Hans Kellner as to why the idea of a unified meaning in history is indispensable to the discourse on the pluralism of meaning are still valid. See Hans Kellner, “L’impensabile ma indispensabile unità di senso della storia,” Discipline Filosofiche. Unità di senso della storia nell’orizzonte contemporaneo (1), ed. Barnaba Maj and Lisa Regazzoni (2000): 73–98. [↩]
- The relationship between rhetoric and historiography has been a topos of historical theoretical reflection since antiquity. As a result of Hayden White’s Metahistory (1973), it gained renewed virulence and became one of the most discussed questions in historical theory in the decades following its publication. [↩]
- On the “epistemological turn” in the philosophy of history and its advocates, see Georg Gangl’s response to Ethan Kleinberg and João Ohara’s contributions: “Facing the Music,” Philosophy of History Now! (12.11.2021), URL: https://www.oulu.fi/en/blogs/philosophy-history-now/facing-music (21.11.2021). [↩]
- To use the words of Reinhart Koselleck in his essay Über die Theoriebedürftigkeit der Geschichtsschreibung (1972), the only genuine theory of history is a theory of historical times that focuses on the analysis of time structures. The question of time regimes, time structures, and temporality has gained momentum in recent years. See Sina Steglich’s contribution on this blog: “Vom Wann der Geschichte zum Wie des Historischen,” Geschichtstheorie am Werk (19.10.2021), URL: https://gtw.hypotheses.org/976 (21.11.2021). [↩]
- On some of today’s challenges in historical research that await adequate theoretical reflection, see the contribution by Edoardo Tortarolo on this blog: “The theory of history and the ‘fourth revolution’,” Geschichtstheorie am Werk (28.09.2021), URL: https://gtw.hypotheses.org/1280 (21.11.2021). [↩]
- The question of conveying historical knowledge or its production in non-academic contexts is dealt with, for example, in the profile area Geschichtskulturen at Bielefeld University, which takes a look at the different sites of historical production and their specific practices, media versions and modes of operation. [↩]
- I refer here to my remarks in Geschichtsdinge. Gallische Vergangenheit und französische Geschichtsforschung im 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2020, esp. in the first chapter. [↩]
- Bärbel Völkel has made an attempt in this direction. See her contribution on this blog: “Historical Theory(ies) and Critical Whiteness Studies,” Geschichtstheorie am Werk (12.10.2021), URL: https://gtw.hypotheses.org/946 (21.11.2021). [↩]
Many thanks to Lisa Regazzoni for this contribution! There are many things in it that I find noteworthy and many commonalities with my own thinking, though personally I do not use the moniker “theory of history” for my (philosophical) work about history and historiography. For instance, I agree that our reflections should bear in mind non-academic engagements with the past and the whole range of relations to the it that can be found in historical culture. Also, Regazzoni is right that there are historical sciences other than human historiography that deserve our attention. And she raises an, if not the crucial question in a wider sense: Why do we want or need “methodically regulated and reflected historiography” as a practice and how does it relate to other practices in a pluralist society? A question that, a fortiori, also applies to the theory and philosophy of history and historiography. (What I am not so sure about, is whether I am too happy with the imagery of theory of history being a “continuous disturbance or alarm signal” to historians, but this is another topic.)
What I have more questions about is what Regazzoni calls her “compressed offer of a definition of the field of ‘theory of history’”. Regazzoni would like to see “theory of history” being concerned with three main issues, and that in the form of “of a reflective practice, as theorizing”, as she writes. I can’t really pin down what is meant here by “theory” exactly, just like in the use of the term by Ethan Kleinberg. It does not seem to be theory in the received sense of a scientific theories and instead more hinge on the concept of a “reflective practice”, whatever that means in detail. Be that as it may, Regazzoni’s three main areas of engagement for the “theory of history” are:
1) History as a “medially constructed unified meaning of what happened, or as the irreducible pluralism of meaning”, and in this sense “not as the past”. The “open question” in this area is for her to what extent a plural and postcolonial historiography allows for “different, if not irreconcilable, formations of meaning”.
2) “[H]istory as a media differentiated representation of pasts”.
3) “[H]istory in the sense of a practice of enquiry, defined by the methods, practices and approaches used, and in turn recognized as legitimate by a particular community.” Here the prime question is which community defines the rules for the practice.
Now, I don’t want to give my own position on these issues here but would like to indicate some potential topics for further discussion. Aside of the issue of the meaning of “theory” in “theory of history” that I raised above, it would seem that the concepts of “meaning” itself and “medium” play a central role in Regazzoni’s understanding of what “theory of history” should be about. I am not sure that I understand exactly what they mean here.
As to some more concrete questions based on my (partial) understanding of the issues: Why would a “medially constructed unified meaning of what happened” equally amount to an “irreducible pluralism of meaning”? (I might be misreading the “or” in the text between both phrases, in case it is meant as an exclusive disjunction.) And then there is the question that follows for Regazzoni, i.e. whether historiography, as plural and postcolonial, can allow for “different, if not irreconcilable, formations of meaning”. So, we have meanings that are medially constructed and unified, plural, different but not irreconcilable, at least ideally, as far as I understand. Is that a sensible notion of the meaning of history? And does a historiography that is not plural and postcolonial not allow for this sort of meaning? And why would be want to have ”meaning” with these characteristics in the first place? Also, more generally, why is the past as such falling by the wayside in this threefold definition of the field of “theory of history”?
These are questions and concepts that I myself would like to see discussed in the ongoing debate, based on this stimulating text.
When I spoke of consensus and pluralism in my response to Lisa Regazzoni’s blog post, I did not mean that there should or could be a consensus in historical theory. After all, it is precisely the different perspectives that make the view of the world more complex, the spaces for reflection more diverse. Nevertheless, there are consensuses within the different ‘schools’ which, as I understand Lisa Regazzoni’s contribution, should be challenged. Why should the invention of glue and/or collage as aesthetic expression and communication beyond language not be an epochal feature, a legitimate expression of theory challenge? Pluralism in this sense would broaden perspectives on horizons of knowledge and cognition and their emergence, give more people the opportunity to participate in discourses. But: if art and science are functional systems in Niklas Luhmann’s sense, then science has the task of generating and providing new knowledge, while art is a special form of observing the world that creates aesthetic meaning. Both functional systems can communicate with each other, but their functions within society are not the same. Nevertheless, new reflexivity could emerge in dialogue by irritating the each other functional system; art can challenge historical science and theory.
But if all historical-theoretical (and artistic?) perspectives – and I agree with Lisa Regazzoni that here we must speak of theory in the plural – speak simultaneously and this simultaneity represents a value in itself (polyphony), how does one get into listening, into thinking, into a dialogue? Who is the first to be silent in order to listen??? And: do we know what we are talking about when everyone is talking at the same time? Doesn’t the talking have to have a common point of reference so that the polyphony can be pragmatically turned? Isn’t that the point of (historical) theory, that it proves helpful in coping with the challenges of the lifeworld? But possibly there is no consensus there either…
Thank you for this, Lisa Regazzoni! I believe that your understanding of the theory of history is close to what most or at least many of my colleagues here in Brazil think too. While this might be in tension with another, more strictly epistemological understanding – such as Gangl’s -, I think there is significant overlap and much to be gained from a conjunction of both. (About this, I have started to draft a follow-up to Gangl’s take – hopefully to be completed in between grading and lecturing.)
In this sense, while I share Bärbel Völkel’s concern with (the lack of) dialogue and exchange, I think the areas of overlap and connection between these understandings are not always obvious – which is why we find essays like Kleinberg’s, Gilbert’s, and Regazzoni’s so valuable. Also, I do not think we can have consensus and pluralism at the same time (unless the consensus is precisely that we lack any consensus), nor that the lack of consensus is necessarily bad. However, lacking a common ground does make dialogue and exchange more challenging. To end on a more positive note, I think we are slowly building up this much-needed common space for “theory and philosophy of history”, and this blog (and responses here and on Twitter) is an important part of it.
*Englisch Version below*
Am Anfang des anregenden Beitrags von Lisa Regazzoni steht das Kunstwerk von Man Ray mit dem Titel: “Collage ou lʼâge de la colle”. Ein interessantes Fallbeispiel. Aus meiner Sicht lohnt es sich, dieses genauer anzuschauen: Löst bereits das Kunstwerk an sich in uns den Impuls aus, dass es sich um eine Geschichte theoretisierende künstlerische Position handeln könnte? Oder gibt uns erst der (vom Künstler?) gewählte Titel den Impuls? Um dies auszuloten, können zwei Gedankenspiele helfen:
Vergleich 1: Was würde sich mit geschichtssensibler Perspektive ändern, wenn das Kunstwerk “Quellenfund” hieße? Der potentiell Geschichte theoretisierende Impuls bliebe für mich, würde aber eher das Konzept “Quelle” als das Konzept “Epoche” reflektieren. Bei der Wahrnehmung des Kunstwerks läge für mich der Blick aber weiterhin auf der Interpretation des Ganzen und seiner Klebestellen.
Vergleich 2: Inwiefern triggert “Untitled 20#07”, das Bild zum Beitrag, einen Geschichte theoretisierenden Impuls? Liest man die Buchstaben als “ieri” erwächst für mich ein schwacher Impuls (Gestern nicht abbildbar, nur mit abstrakten Buchstaben benennbar), der sich je nach Interpretation im Zusammenspiel mit dem Nicht-Titel verstärken kann (Spannungsfeld der Namenlosigkeit des Werkes und der Benennung als “gestern” im Werk). Hieße das Werk etwa “Chronoferenz”, wäre der Potentialimpuls ausgeprägter.
Entsprechend ist meine Ansicht, dass das Geschichte theoretisierende Potential von “Collage ou lʼâge de la colle” wesentlich dem Zusammenspiel von Kunstwerk und Titel erwächst. In seiner (ironischen) Selbstreflexivität zielt der Titel ja nicht nur auf das Epochenkonzept, sondern – im Französischen – auch auf die Collage als Form: eine Collage über die Collage als Form des Zeitalters des Collagierens im reklamierten Zeitalter des Collagierens. Oder nur eine Collage…
Daraus ergeben sich für mich durch das Kunstwerk fünf Denkanstöße auf verschiedenen Ebenen, auch im Zusammenspiel mit den anderen Ausführungen des Beitrags:
1. Inwiefern ist die Collage in ihrer multimedialen Pluralität (Werkstoffe, Video, Audio, Text etc.) und potentiell inhärenten Reflexivität eine (individuell plural ausgestaltbare) Form für das Theoretisieren von Geschichte in der Gegenwart – und wie lässt sich dies in digitalen Formen diskursiv denken? (Liegt die Stärke digitalen Collagierens gerade darin, dass durch beliebiges Vervielfältigen, Mitcollagieren ohne festes Überkleben und Decollagieren ohne Abreißen weniger Wunden aufreißen oder birgt dies das Risiko collagierender Beliebigkeit fernab der Wahrnehmungsschwellen anderer?)
2. Ist Geschichtstheorie immer selbst Collage, wenn sie reflexiv angelegt ist und die “Klebestellen” sind nur unterschiedlich stark sichtbar?
3. Was bedeutet theoretisch und ganz praktisch eine Weitung des Spektrums der Reflexionspraktiken für geschichtstheoretische Praktiken, Debatten und Diskurse, wenn also neben kognitiven Praktiken auch ästhetische Praktiken als reflexiv und reflektierend und damit – je nach thematischem Fokus – als geschichtstheoretische Beiträge akzeptiert werden – und inwiefern ist dafür die durch Benennung explizierte Markierung der ästhetischen Praktiken (bzw. alternativ die Integration von Schrift im Kunstwerk selbst) als potentiell geschichtstheoretisch erforderlich?
4. Inwiefern unterscheiden sich Reflektieren über Geschichte und Theoretisieren über Geschichte (Spektrum zwischen eher assoziativ und eher systematisch?) – und inwiefern hilft die Unterscheidung?
5. Inwiefern lassen sich aus den ausbleibenden Kommentar-Tweets zum Tweet, der nach dem geschichtstheoretischen Status des Kunstwerks von Man Ray fragte, Schlussfolgerungen zum Status geschichtstheoretischer Debatten ziehen? Kann die ausbleibende Debatte in dem Fall nicht auch daran liegen, dass der Tweet eher als “Werbung” für den Blog rezipiert wurde und die Reichweite des Twitter-Accounts erst steigt?
At the beginning of Lisa Regazzoni’s stimulating contribution is the artwork by Man Ray entitled: “Collage ou lʼâge de la colle”. An interesting case study. From my point of view, it is worth taking a closer look at it: Does the artwork itself already trigger the impulse in us that it could be an artistic position theorising history? Or is it only the title chosen (by the artist?) that gives us the impulse? To explore this, two thought games can help:
Comparison 1: What would change with a history-sensitive perspective if the artwork were called “Quellenfund”? The potential history-theorising impulse would remain for me, but would reflect the concept of “source” rather than the concept of “epoch”. In perceiving the artwork, however, the focus for me would remain on the interpretation of the whole and its glued parts.
Comparison 2: To what extent does “Untitled 20#07”, the image for the contribution, trigger a history-theorising impulse? If one reads the letters as “ieri”, a weak impulse arises for me (yesterday cannot be depicted, can only be named with abstract letters), which can intensify depending on the interpretation in the interplay with the non-title (field of tension of the namelessness of the work and the naming as “yesterday” in the work). If the work were called “Chronoferenz”, for example, the potential impulse would be even more pronounced.
Accordingly, my view is that the history-theorising potential of “Collage ou lʼâge de la colle” essentially arises from the interplay of artwork and title. In its (ironic) self-reflexivity, the title aims not only at the concept of the epoch, but also – in French – at collage as a form: a collage about collage as a form of the age of collaging in the claimed age of collaging. Or just a collage…
This results in five impulses for thought on different levels for me through the artwork, also in interplay with the other remarks in the article:
1. To what extent is the collage in its multimedia plurality (materials, video, audio, text etc.) and potentially inherent reflexivity a form (that can be individually pluralised) for theorising history in the present – and how can this be discursively thought in digital forms? (Does the strength of digital collage lie precisely in the fact that by copying at will, collaging without gluing over and decollaging without tearing off, fewer wounds are torn open, or does this harbour the risk of collaging arbitrariness far from the perception thresholds of others?)
2. Isn’t theory of history itself always collage if it is reflexively conceived and the “glued areas” are only visible to different degrees?
3. What does a widening of the spectrum of reflective practices mean theoretically and quite practically for historical-theoretical practices, debates and discourses, if, in other words, alongside cognitive practices, aesthetic practices are also accepted as reflexive and reflective and thus – depending on the thematic focus – as historical-theoretical contributions – and to what extent is the marking of aesthetic practices (or alternatively the integration of writing in the artwork itself) as potentially historical-theoretical, made explicit by naming, necessary for this?
4. To what extent do reflecting on history and theorising about history differ (spectrum between rather associative and rather systematic?) – and to what extent does the distinction help?
5. To what extent can conclusions be drawn about the status of debates on the theory of history from the lack of comment tweets on the tweet that asked about the historical-theoretical status of Man Ray’s artwork? Could the lack of debate in this case not also be due to the fact that the tweet was received more as an “advertisement” for the blog and that the reach of the Twitter account is only increasing?
English version below
Das Feld, das Lisa Regazzoni in Ihrem Blogbeitrag eröffnet zeigt, dass das Ringen um die Gleichzeitigkeit von Konsensfähigkeit und Pluralismus im Kontext geschichtstheoretischer Zugänge, Umgänge und Vorgänge ein hart umkämpftes Feld zu sein scheint. Schaut man sich die meist unkommentierten Beiträge in diesem Blog an, scheint sich eine ‘Kultur’ des Monologs, eines monadenhaften Um-sich-Selbst-Drehens in der eigenen wissenschaftlichen Blase, etabliert zu haben. Likes, Tweets oder Retweets auf Twitter scheinen den wissenschaftlichen Diskurs ersetzen zu können. Wie aber kann aus diesem Nebeneinander wissenschaftlicher Expertise etwas Neues, zukunftsfähiges entstehen, wenn der Dialog ausbleibt?
Wie Lisa Regazzoni beschreibt, sind es ja längst nicht mehr nur Kulturphänomene rund um die historische Disziplin, die die geschichtstheoretischen Denker*innen herausfordern. Das Anthropozän als evolutionär-kulturelle Herausforderung verlangt nach neuem Denken, das mit bekanntem Denken – auch bekanntem geschichtstheoretischen Denken, nicht gelöst werden kann (siehe Chakrabarty). Probleme, so ein bekannter Spruch Albert Einsteins, können niemals mit der gleichen Denkweise gelöst werden, durch die sie entstanden sind. Und für die Herausforderungen des Anthropozäns gibt es derzeit keine historischen Erfahrungen, die den Diskurs würden dominieren können, so wiederum Chakrabarty. Das schafft die Möglichkeit zu Dialogen auf Augenhöhe, wenn niemand mehr die Richtung angeben kann. Das bedarf der Bereitschaft, sich aus der eigenen Komfortzone heraus zu wagen. Das Bedarf des Mutes, jenen mit anderen (geschichtstheoretischen) Überzeugungen zu vertrauen. Ich nehme an, uns allen liegt daran, die Erde für unsere Enkel und Urenkel lebens- und liebensfähig zu erhalten. Das bedeutet aber, dass der Bezugspunkt auch der geschichtstheoretischen Überlegungen in der Zukunft liegen muss und nicht mehr Vergangenheit oder Geschichte oder Sinn der Geschichte der primäre Referenzrahmen sein können. Was jetzt gefragt ist, ist geschichtstheoretische Kreativität um einer gemeinsamen gelingenden Zukunft Willen. Da Neues in den seltensten Fällen aus sich selbst heraus entsteht, sondern meist bekannte Elemente enthält, liegt in der Ausrichtung auf eine gelingende Zukunft ein Bezugspunkt, der Gemeinsamkeiten schafft, wo die theoretischen Positionierungen nahezu unvereinbar scheinen.
The field that Lisa Regazzoni opens up in her blog post shows that the struggle for the simultaneity of consensus and pluralism in the context of historical-theoretical accesses, procedures and processes seems to be a hard-fought field. Looking at the mostly uncommented posts on this blog, a ‘culture’ of monologue, of a monadic spinning around oneself in one’s own scholarly bubble, seems to have established itself. Likes, tweets or retweets on Twitter seem to be able to replace scientific discourse. But how can something new and sustainable emerge from this juxtaposition of scientific expertise if dialogue is absent?
As Lisa Regazzoni describes, it is no longer only cultural phenomena around the historical discipline that challenge historical thinkers*. The Anthropocene as an evolutionary-cultural challenge demands new thinking that cannot be solved with familiar thinking – even familiar historical-theoretical thinking (see Chakrabarty). Problems, as Albert Einstein said, can never be solved with the same thinking that created them. And for the challenges of the Anthropocene, there is currently no historical experience that can dominate the discourse, again according to Chakrabarty. This creates the possibility for dialogues at eye level, when no one can give direction anymore. That requires the willingness to venture out of one’s comfort zone. That requires the courage to trust those with different (historical-theoretical) convictions. I suppose we all care about keeping the earth livable and lovable for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This means, however, that the reference point of even historical-theoretical considerations must be in the future and that the past or history or the meaning of history can no longer be the primary frame of reference. What is needed now is creativity in the theory of history for the sake of a common successful future. This must begin in the now, in the present. The present cannot be skipped. Since new things rarely emerge from themselves, but usually contain familiar elements, in the orientation towards a successful future lies a point of reference that creates common ground where theoretical positionings seem almost irreconcilable.