"A hypothesis then comes to mind. Does the historian, insofar as he does history by bringing it to the level of scholarly discourse, not mime in a creative way the interpretive gesture by which those who make history attempt to understand themselves and their world? This hypothesis is particularly plausible for a pragmatic conception of historiography that tries not to separate representations from the practices by which social agents set up the social bond and include multiple identities within it. If so, there would indeed be a mimetic relation between the operation of representing as the moment of doing history, and the represented object as the moment of making history.
Furthermore, historians, little habituated to situating their historical discourse in terms of the critical prolonging of personal and collective memory, are not led to bringing together these two uses of the term 'representation' in relation to what I have called a more primitive one, unless it is in the order of thematic reflection, at least as regards the constitution of the relation to time, that is, in terms of the act of remembering. This too has its ambition, its claim, that of representing the past faithfully. The phenomenology of memory, from the time of Plato and Aristotle, has proposed one key for the interpretation of the mnemonic phenomenon, namely, the power of memory to make present an absent thing that happened previously. Presence, absence, anteriority, and representation thus form the first conceptual chain of discourse about memory. The ambition of the faithfulness of memory would thus precede that of truth by history, whose theory remains to be worked out.
Can this hermeneutic key open the secret of the represented object, before penetrating that of the operation of representing?
Some historians have thought about this, without leaving behind the framework of the history of representations. Fro them, what is important is actualizing the reflective resources of social agents in their attempts to understand themselves and their world. This is the approach recommended and practiced by Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures, where as a sociologist he confines himself to conceptualizing the outlines of self-understanding immanent to a culture. The historian can also undertake to do this. But can he do so without providing the analytic instrument that this spontaneous self-understanding lacks? The answer can only be negative. Yet the work thus applied to the idea of representation does not surpass the privilege of conceptualization that the historian exercises from one end to the other of the historiographical operation, hence from reading the archives to writing the book, in passing through explanation/understanding and its literary organization. Therefore there is nothing shocking in introducing into the discourse on the represented object fragments of analysis and of definition borrowed from another discursive domain than history" (Ricoeur 2006:228-229).
2006 Memory, History, Forgetting. Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer, trans. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
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