Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Deconstruction and doing history

Expand Messages
  • Brian McCarthy
    Steve, Dave, Deconstruction has been around now for quite some time, as has historical work on the Shoa, so I will make my request more specific: Could someone
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 1, 2001
    • 0 Attachment
      Steve, Dave,

      Deconstruction has been around now for quite some time, as has historical
      work on the Shoa, so I will make my request more specific:

      Could someone name a major work on the Shoa that is written by a
      deconstructionist?

      Has anyone demonstrated, or even argued convincingly, that any major work on
      the Shoa would have been better if its author had espoused the
      deconstructionist mind-set and theory?

      My impression is that the decon--ists in practice consider their work as a
      substitute for doing history.

      Perhaps some working historians have quietly profited from their critique. I
      don't think either Yehuda Bauer or Peter Novick acknowledges doing so.

      In any case I am glad that they have not put their historical work on hold
      until they have swum the length of deconstruction's acid bath.

      Brian McCarthy

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Steve Black" <sblack@...>
      To: "Brian McCarthy" <brmcc@...>
      Sent: Friday, June 01, 2001 2:22 PM
      Subject: Re: [XTalk] Re: Honorable debate in agonistic cultures


      >
      >
      > >[Brian Wrote]
      > >Meanwhile can you name any major working historians who are
      deconstructionists?
      >
      > >
      > >If you can name some, do you think they do better history than those
      major
      > ones who are not?
      > >
      > [Steve writes]
      > It seems to me that this whole line of arguing kind of misses the whole
      point
      > of deconstructionism. That point might, for example, be how exactly do you
      decide
      > that one history is 'better' than another.
      >
      > >[Brian Wrote]
      > >There are rumors that in literature this fad is fading. If so it will
      take
      > Bible studies 10 or 15 years to notice the fade, just as it took them
      years
      > to discover the movement.
      > >
      > [Steve writes]
      > Good news. As it ceases being a 'fad', now we can start considering this
      "movement's"
      > claim on grounds other than popularity.
      >
      >
      >
    • Steve Black
      ... I am rather new to this whole methodology , and so I cannot point you to any works. ... I, personally am still sorting through the various claims of
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 1, 2001
      • 0 Attachment
        >Steve, Dave,
        >
        >Deconstruction has been around now for quite some time, as has historical
        >work on the Shoa, so I will make my request more specific:
        >
        >Could someone name a major work on the Shoa that is written by a
        >deconstructionist?

        I am rather new to this whole "methodology", and so I cannot point
        you to any works.

        >Has anyone demonstrated, or even argued convincingly, that any major work on
        >the Shoa would have been better if its author had espoused the
        >deconstructionist mind-set and theory?

        I, personally am still sorting through the various claims of
        deconstructionism. I have not got to the point where I can personally
        make any final statements regarding it. Many claims, mostly focusing
        on the nature of the historian, and the constructed nature of
        history, on a philosophical level (apart from historical results)
        seem pretty hard to get around. The recognition of "power plays", and
        agendas. and so forth also seem invaluable to a true and honest
        historical criticism. The relevance to HJ seems inescapable.

        >
        >My impression is that the decon--ists in practice consider their work as a
        substitute for doing history.

        Just a thought, its seems that to be a coherent teller of history, we
        probably need (or have by default) a philosophy of history that
        guides us. I would see deconstructionism as more of that
        philosophical background than the actual history itself. [Perhaps...]
        >
        >
        >In any case I am glad that they have not put their historical work on hold
        >until they have swum the length of deconstruction's acid bath.

        I've always liked acid baths

        --
        Peace

        Steve Black
        Diocese of New Westminster
        Anglican Church of Canada
      • David C. Hindley
        ... historical work on the Shoa, so I will make my request more specific: Could someone name a major work on the Shoa that is written by a deconstructionist?
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 2, 2001
        • 0 Attachment
          Brian McCarthy says:

          >>Deconstruction has been around now for quite some time, as has
          historical work on the Shoa, so I will make my request more specific:

          Could someone name a major work on the Shoa that is written by a
          deconstructionist?

          Has anyone demonstrated, or even argued convincingly, that any major
          work on the Shoa would have been better if its author had espoused the
          deconstructionist mind-set and theory?

          My impression is that the decon--ists in practice consider their work
          as a substitute for doing history.

          Perhaps some working historians have quietly profited from their
          critique. I don't think either Yehuda Bauer or Peter Novick
          acknowledges doing so.

          In any case I am glad that they have not put their historical work on
          hold until they have swum the length of deconstruction's acid bath.<<

          To be honest, I do not want to be using any single example as a litmus
          test. The Holocaust (Shoa) is a deeply personal event for many who
          lived through it as well as the families of those affected by it in
          other ways.

          I engaged in a quick web search and think I am getting a feel for the
          position you have voiced. A March 1998 archive from the arch-theory
          list contained a thread that seemed to mirror your concern. Authors of
          various posts suggested that narrative deconstruction was being
          employed by some to deny the certainty of Holocaust events.

          I also found an essay by Diane Purkiss (_The Witch in History_)
          responding to a review of her book by Richard Evans (who wrote _In
          Defense of History_). From this (plus other links I looked at
          yesterday but could not find today) I get the impression that there
          are some historians, especially among Jews, who "are fond of pointing
          out that deconstruction�s leading American exponent was a Nazi
          sympathiser and anti-Semite during the war, indicating the dire
          political consequences of deconstruction�s challenge to traditional
          history. (Purkiss, P. 70)"

          The objection seems to hinge on a couple things: especially that Paul
          de Man, a well known poststructualist and narrative deconstructionist,
          wrote 170 articles for a Belgian collaborationist newspaper during
          WW2, including one that was explicitly anti-Semitic, and that
          Holocaust deniers have employed narrative deconstruction to try to
          undermine the claims of Holocaust survivors (and the recorders of
          archives) as well as lend legitimacy to their own explanation of
          events.

          Sometimes the Holocaust deniers' presentation mimics bona-fide
          historical scholarship so thoroughly that Evans complains the
          Holocaust deniers� "use of the scholarly apparatus of footnotes and
          references, and their insistence that they are telling the objective
          truth [as opposed, I suppose, to some sort of subjective
          agenda-influenced accounts of Holocaust activists], demonstrates in
          Purkiss�s view the �dire consequences� of such a scholarly apparatus,
          the bankruptcy of such a belief in objectivity and truth." (pp. 140-1)
          Keep in mind, though, that Purkiss took exception to this
          characterization of her position as being inaccurate, and connected
          the misrepresentation to Evans' "attempt to link postmodernism with
          Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial."

          So there appears to be a tendency on the part of Holocaust defenders
          (as opposed to deniers) to see narrative deconstructionist method as a
          threat to claims for the truth/reality of holocaust events. There is
          an undercurrent that also objects to the use of narrative
          deconstruction as an exegetical tool which allows feminists and others
          to read their specific issues into historical evidence, and it is
          suggested that feminists and Holocaust deniers are both trying to
          rewrite history in order to bring it in-line with their own agendas.
          The key difference, as I see it, between such exegetical use of
          narrative deconstruction (which is being used quite a bit in Biblical
          studies) and the analytical use of it in the study of historical
          sources (primary and secondary), is that excesses in its exegetical
          use do not negate its usefulness as an analytical tool for
          understanding historical narrative.

          The holocaust is directly mentioned only once in Munslow's book (pg
          97, with my previous quote from pg. 149 being an indirect reference).
          This reference in page 97 is in relation to Marxist constructionist
          historian Alex Callinicos's objection that deconstructionist White, by
          "Conceiving history as a fictive historical representation, where
          meaning derives from how it is written rather than according to the
          factual anchor of objectively discoverable and describable real
          events, suggests ... White has a skeptical and relativist (that is
          postmodern) North Atlantic bourgeois liberal agenda! White is thus not
          equipped to tell fact from fiction, or ... able to distance himself
          from 'nationalist historical mythologies', by which he <Callinicos>
          means White's treatment particularly of events like the Holocaust." I
          am not sure what this refers to, as the Holocaust is not mentioned at
          all in the index to _Metahistory_, so it probably relates to something
          in one of the two major collections of White's essays in print,
          neither of which I have on hand. Summarizing Callinico's position
          regarding deconstructionist White, Munslow says "In Callinicos's view,
          as well as that of other non-Marxist critics, White's formalism and
          relativism make him incapable of distinguishing truth from
          interpretation, and fact from fiction."

          So there are obviously critics of the historical deconstructionist
          approach. Even so, all historical approaches have strong and weak
          points (which Munslow steps through, one by one, as I'll indicate
          below), including the positions of reconstructionists (employing
          traditional empirical methods) and constructionists
          (reconstructionists aided by the heavy use social theory to fill in
          the blanks between points of evidence analyzed in the traditional
          empirical method). Munslow, to his credit, not only devotes two
          chapters to reconstructionist/constructionist and deconstructionist
          historical methods respectively, but also two more that ask what is
          wrong with each of those two basic approaches. In each chapter he
          devotes sections that discuss issues related to epistemology,
          evidence, and theories of history relevant to each positions,
          including their problems, and how these all relate to structural and
          poststructural narrative theory. Munslow's book is a true textbook,
          not a vanity book intended to expound the virtues of a favored
          position.

          BTW, I was drawn to take a look at narrative deconstruction (as it
          relates to historical investigation) for reasons very similar to those
          mentioned by Steve Black, and have reached quite similar conclusions
          about it. To be honest, I am not yet sure how to apply it to analysis
          of primary sources, but I definitely see its applicability for
          analyzing the secondary product of modern historians. Hayden White's
          methods are exceptionally well defined and based on the work of
          specialists (he defines them in the first 42 pages of _Metahistory_),
          and are not just his fuzzy hunches. He stands out in contrast to many
          others, so it does not bother me that any "fad" interest in his work
          has faded. That only means that serious use of his methods is what we
          can expect from now on, and I look forward to that.

          Respectfully,

          Dave Hindley
          Cleveland, Ohio, USA
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.