Academic journal article Philosophy Today

History, Improvised A Short Dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy and Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

History, Improvised A Short Dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy and Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback

Article excerpt

MC: We are attempting a dialogue about history. No shortage of difficulties becomes apparent, but above all the difficulty of beginning. How to begin such a dialogue? To go back over all that has been said about history, about the distinction between the ancient and the modern; about idealism and historical materialism; about the idea of history, about its materiality-or indeed its immateriality; about the difference between history and historicity, the difference between the broad narrative of ?history? and the minor narratives, the stories; about the difference between the discourses about the end of history-which have themselves become a grand narrative of the lack of grand narratives-and history as finite, as you yourself have suggested. We could indeed retrace all of this thinking, but this retracing would not in any way relieve the feeling that there is nothing more to be said about history, or even that the question of history has itself become a historical object. To think history today is to expose ourselves to a today that is estranged from this question, as if the time, the place of the question of history seemed to have become estranged from or even indifferent to itself. It seems to me that the only possibility of beginning this dialogue would be by remaining within this difficulty of beginning. The difficulty of beginning is set against the disillusionment about the possibility of beginning. From whence does the question of history arise today? Does it arise from a disillusionment of beginning, from the feeling of no longer being able to begin, from a feeling that beginning has no power, that power has left all beginning bereft? The question of beginning is the dark shadow-line of the modern thinking of history-beginning understood as the event that interrupts the flow of events, beginning as re-birth, as reform-in other words as revolution. To have nothing more to say about history mirrors the no-longer-being-able-to-begin of history. To think history today, then: would this not mean thinking this 'no-longer, today, being-able-to begin,' or thinking today as a not-being-able-to-begin? And, following this same path, thinking the question of beginning beyond every idea of revolution, of novelty-in other words of a teleological or messianic relation to the past?

JLN: To be sure, we do not know where to begin: history as a thematic, or as an object of reflection seems finished, in the sense of a 'termination,' the sense of it having become very difficult-close to impossible-to relate oneself to a process or to a meaning with which we could be engaged and on behalf of which we might also engage ourselves. This means, in other words: a history which would be ours of which we would in certain respects be the subjects, or which indeed might be the genesis or production of a "we"-subject. History as 'subjectivation,' as people are fond of saying, following Foucault. But precisely this neologism, even used in an undisciplined manner, rests on the idea that there is no subject prior to its historical constitution. Neither 'personal' subject nor subject of history. Foucault forged this word in order to place emphasis on the discontinuities, ruptures, configurational changes in knowledge, power and relations throughout the length of a 'history' entirely separate from any continuous programmatic or teleological process. To such an extent, indeed, that my sense of it is that 'subjectivation' is only a somewhat feeble way of trying to conserve a minimum-and perhaps the illusion-of mastery and of autonomy, precisely there where everything tends toward the perception of practices that are not under control, toward a mutual heteronomy of process, of mechanisms and machinations that assume no project, and hence no subject.

In large part, indeed, it is from out of this transformation from the image of process or project into a cartography of indefinite interdependencies of power and knowledge that the profound transformation in the idea of history has come. …

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