Afsnit syv

When I know enough to truly understand this essay, I will consider myself educated.

Think of the darkness and the great cold
In this valley, which resounds with misery.
– Brecht, Threepenny Opera

Fustel de Coulanges recommended to the historian, that if he wished to reexperience an epoch, he should remove everything he knows about the later course of history from his head. There is no better way of characterizing the method with which historical materialism has broken. It is a procedure of empathy. Its origin is the heaviness at heart, the acedia, which despairs of mastering the genuine historical picture, which so fleetingly flashes by. The theologians of the Middle Ages considered it the primary cause of melancholy. Flaubert, who was acquainted with it, wrote: “Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour ressusciter Carthage.”

The nature of this melancholy becomes clearer, once one asks the question, with whom does the historical writer of historicism actually empathize. The answer is irrefutably with the victor. Those who currently rule are however the heirs of all those who have ever been victorious. Empathy with the victors thus comes to benefit the current rulers every time. This says quite enough to the historical materialist. Whoever until this day emerges victorious, marches in the triumphal procession in which today’s rulers tread over those who are sprawled underfoot. The spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage.

In the historical materialist they have to reckon with a distanced observer. For what he surveys as the cultural heritage is part and parcel of a lineage which he cannot contemplate without horror. It owes its existence not only to the toil of the great geniuses, who created it, but also to the nameless drudgery of its contemporaries. There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another.

–W.B.

Axé.

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4 Comments

Filed under Bibliography, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

4 responses to “Afsnit syv

  1. You’ll understand this when you are old.

  2. Oh, that probably sounds irritatingly cryptic. I can think of examples, such as the notion that women did not have lives until the 1960′s. Or that WW II created the “greatest generation.” These are not notions that I would ever entertain about these periods that I lived through and yet they inform the thinking about my parents’ generation. In whose interest is it to regard that era and those people in these terms?

  3. Z

    I just mean, really be able to explain historical materialism, etc., be able to talk about WB’s intertexts and precursors and references, and take a critical perspective on the text.

    Do those clichés really inform serious thinking about your parents’ generation?

  4. Not serious thinking, but I take your point.

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