Essays on Art, Aesthetics, and Culture
1. Postmodernism, History, and “The Linguistic Turn”
A historical fact is […] something that happened in history […] it really is there entirely independently of the historian.
— Richard Evans (1997)
When we study history we are not studying the past but what historians have constructed about the past.
— Keith Jenkins (1991)
“The postmodernist’s aim […] is to pull the carpet out under the feet of science and modernism”, says Frank Ankersmit, in his article “Historiography and Postmodernism”, and he continues, “the best illustration of the postmodernist thesis is actually provided by historiography”.1 In this essay I propose to discuss some of the issues concerning the relationship between interpretation, fiction and reality raised by postmodern approaches and challenges to traditional, academic history and historiography. Postmodern approaches to history are heavily influenced by “the linguistic turn” in the humanities, particularly by poststructuralist and deconstructivist thought — not that poststructuralism and deconstruction should be identified with postmodernism. The impact of postmodern theory, however, made itself felt later in historiography than in cultural theory, literary studies, literary criticism, and art theory. There is, for example, no discussion of history and historiography in Steven Connor’s Postmodernist Culture (1997), probably the most comprehensive survey of postmodernism in various fields,2 and the collection Postmodernism and the Social Sciences (1992),3 which has a chapter on the postmodern child but none on postmodern views on history. ← 323 | 324 → Whereas the popularity of postmodern theory in aesthetics and the aesthetic disciplines as well as...
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