Tropes for the Past: Hayden White and the History/Literature Debate

By Kuisma Korhonen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11

Olabode Ibironke


Monumental Time in Caribbean Literature

No one has yet written a history from the point of view of the poets—from within their consciousness of the
historical vocation of art1

---- Geoffrey H. Hartman.

The origins and vehicle of modern historiography reside in the rise to dominance of [the document] as the exclusive and irrefutable proof of human activity and achievement. The document from this standpoint is not the same thing as recorded history, but the very icon of modern civilization. In other words, the insistence by professional historians on the academic mode of documentation of evidence, and the status and totalizing authority invested in the archives, are perpetuated and valorized through their vital link to those processes powered by an auto-select mechanism of the trajectory of modernity. Consequently, the daunting task of our time is how to initiate an alternative discourse that is not overdetermined by the authority of the archives, in order to capture historical knowledges that were subjugated, thrown into disorder, turned awry by the rise to dominance of [the document.] This task, I would argue in this paper, using Chamoiseau's Texaco2 as an illustration, defines the project of writing history in the Caribbean through literature by invoking the question of space in constituting historical consciousness thereby challenging in a fundamental way, the dominance and objectivism of [the document.]

An important understanding of the transformational stages of the historical discipline and the practices that could open the possibilities to a discursive shift is presented in Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge:

To be brief, then, let us say that history, in its traditional form, undertook to 'memorize' the monuments of the
past, transform them into documents, and lend speech to those traces which, in themselves, are often not ver-
bal, or which say in silence something other than what they actually say; in our time, history is that which
transforms documents into monuments. In that area where, in the past, history deciphered the traces left by
men, it now deploys a mass of elements that have to be grouped, made relevant, placed in relation to one an-
other to form totalities. There was a time when archaeology, as a discipline devoted to silent monuments, inert
traces, objects without context, and things left by the past, aspired to the condition of history, and attained

1 Geoffrey H. Hartman, Beyond Formalism (Yale University Press, 1970), p. 356.

2 Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997).

-151-

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