Essays in Contemporary History
6.1 Afterthoughts on Posthistoire The Zeitgeist tries to elude specification by resorting to a host of terms prefixed by the morpheme "post-": post-modern, post-industrial, post-revolutionary society. That list can be extended– yet the most encompassing of these epithets, namely "posthistoire," enjoys only apocryphal popularity. In articles or notes on research in progress, you may occasionally chance upon the observation, almost in passing, that history is at an end, that we live in "posthistorical" times. The bald statement usually stands without any further commentary, as if little more need be added. In- terest in the posthistorical era is riveted more on aesthetic playfulness as an ap- proach to the potpourri of the past, simulation of arbitrarily selected fragments drawn from bygone eras: one engages in a game with tokens that have some sem- blance of enduring value, yet are quoted out of context, and thus annulled. The historian reading these terse pronouncements about the supposed demise of the very subject and pith of his professional craft is bewildered, since his field would appear to be enjoying something of a rejuvenation: a rare conjunction of in- creased historical interest, encouragement by the media and an aesthetic reanima- tion of elements culled from the cultural heritage. He is unnerved and troubled by what the heralds of posthistoire seem to insinuate: that the entire project of rehis- toricization may ultimately be little more than some sort of simulation itself, a pho- ney spectacle staged and directed by the culture industry. He is plagued by...
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