"History and Theory", XXVII – ?3, 1988.





We like to think of philosophy of science and philosophy of history as pure and strictly rational disciplines that have no substantial presuppositions themselves. This gives them the right, so we say, to investigate the "presuppositions" of science and history. Of course, everybody is aware that this picture is overly optimistic. Like every other "discourse to use Foucault's term, philosophy of science and philosophy of history do have their essentialist presuppositions too – essentiatist presuppositions as to what the essential problems are in science and history from a philosophical point of view. As Foucault and Hegel never tired of pointing out, these presuppositions can be discovered by locating the boundary between what can and what cannot be said within a given discourse That is why it makes sense to say that the presuppositions of a discours should not primarily be associated with its undiscussed premises or ultimate foundations, but rather with what it excludes in the way a taboo excludes certain ways of speaking.

The best way to ascertain the presuppositions of a discours is to study its terminology1 The semantic inventory of a discours by necessity determines this boundary between what can and what cannot be said, discussed or investigated within a discours. Vocabulary and terminology therefore express what is supposed to be essential in that which is under discussion. For example, because of their different vocabularies, the debate between the logical-positivists and Popper on the one hand and the Kuhnians on the other was not primarily a debate about the growth of knowledge (as the participants in the debate thought themselves), but in fact a debate about what should be seen as essential in the scientific enterprise. According to the former, this essence is the verification (logical-positivism) or the falsification (Popper and his disciples) of scientific hypotheses; according to the latter, what is essential is the nature of scientific rhetoric (that is, how scientists debate with one another and what kind of arguments they generally consider to be decisive).

The same is true of philosophy of history. In its initial phase, modern philos-

1. The idea is, of course, central to Hegel's conception of dialectics. For Foucault see M. Foucault, Dardre du dtscours tecon inaugurate au College de France prononcee !e 2 decembre 1970 (Paris, 1971).
2. The implications of this proposai for the writing of intellectual history are brilliantly demonstrated in J.G.A. Pocock, Politics, Language and Time (New York, 1973).


ophy of history since, say, the 1940s, has almost exclusively used the vocabulary of description and explanation. The essentialist presupposition involved was, of course, that essentially the past is a sea of historical phenomena that have to be described and explained. The past was conceived of as a host of phenomena lying before the historian, waiting to be described and explained. The preference for this vocabulary automatically generated a number of questions, which were mostly epistemological, with regard to the truth of descriptive and explanatory statements made by the historian about the past. Thus, the "covering-law model" came to dominate the debate in modern philosophy of history in the first half of its short life for no other reason than that the vocabulary adopted by philosophers of history suggested that historical explanation and description were the essence of the historian's task.

However, in the 1970s a new vocabulary came into use. Both hermeneutists and narrativists believed that the historian's task was not the explanation but the interpretation of the past. Indeed, this was more a matter of belief implicit in the turn the debate took somewhere around 1970 than of explicit argument. Moreover, the spell exercised by the previous vocabulary proved so strong that it brought about a split in hermeneutic philosophy of history. The protagonists of what Von Wright and Olafson have called "analytical hermeneutics"3 – roughly, the tradition we associate with Collingwood, Dray, or Von Wright – had become so used to speaking the language of explanation that a hybrid form of hermeneutics came into being; hybrid, because it combined the traditional concentration of hermeneutics upon the interpretation of meaning with the requirement that the historian explain the past presupposed by the other vocabulary. Many of the weaknesses of analytical hermeneutics can be traced back to its original sin of mixing the questions suggested by the hermeneutic vocabulary with the explanatory ideal of the other vocabulary.

The undiluted vocabulary of hermeneutics only made its way slowly into philosophy of history, insofar as it did so at all. Literary criticism and the relevant domains of philosophy of language have shown themselves to be much more receptive to the new vocabulary than philosophy of history. This is not without its dangers for philosophy of history. For in philosophy consistency always pays off better than hybridization and it is therefore to be feared that philosophy of history will lose ground to its more vigilant rivals. Traditionally, hermeneutic theory is a theory concerning the way in which meaning is interpreted. The essentialist presupposition of hermeneutic theory is therefore that the past essentially is a meaningful whole and that it is the task of the historian to interpret the meaning of historical phenomena. The epistemological questions that so obsessed philosophy of history in its initial phase then lost much of their urgency, since questions of meaning are concerned with the relation of words to words rather than with the relation of words to things. And the once hotly debated issue whether history was an (applied) science was abandoned in favor of the

3. See F.A. Olafson, "Hermeneutics: 'Analytical' and 'Dialectical,'" History and Theory, Bet/left 25 (1986), 28-42.


more existential problems of the relation between text and reader raised by the work of influential authors like Gadamer and Derrida / Exchanging the vocabulary of description and explanation for that of meaning and interpretation implied new tasks for philosophy of history and everyone will agree that there is a great deal of important work still to be done in this direction. It will take some time before philosophy of history has really caught up with literary criticism.

Still, despite the new insights that may be expected from the development of a truly hermeneutic philosophy of history, we should not lose sight of the fact that the vocabulary of meaning and interpretation also has its disadvantages. Both terms can be used in a relatively straightforward way when we are speaking of 1) the interpretation of the meaning of human actions (the favorite domain of analytical hermeneutics) and 2) the interpretation of texts (the favorite of continental hermeneutics). Nobody will want to dispute the fact that historians often have to answer the question of why historical agents in the past performed certain actions or what the meaning was of a text written by Hobbes or Rousseau. The trouble is, however, that there is a great deal in the past that does not have a meaning in either of these senses. Twentieth-century historiography prefers to see the past from a point of view different from that of the historical agents themselves and this reduces the intention of analytical hermeneutics to a futile enterprise.5 Moreover, the contemporary variant of intellectual history, the history of mentalities, is not so much interested in meanings (either the mens auctoris or meaning as appropriated by us} as in the mentalities of which the text is evidence. A mentality may be a background for meaning but is not meaning itself.

From these developments in twentieth-century historiography, we can conclude that meaning is less ubiquitous in the past investigated by the historian than hermeneutics suggests. Although the past consists of what human agents did, thought, or wrote in the past and the past knows no superhuman agents, the historian's perspective often both creates and investigates a past that is devoid of intrinsic meaning. The Hegelian insight into the unintended consequences of intentional human action is paradigmatic for this perspective.

Two strategies suggest themselves if an attempt is to be made to save the vocabulary of meaning and interpretation. First, one could have recourse to speculative philosophies of history. Speculative philosophies have always assumed that there is a hidden meaning in the historical process, even if the historical agents themselves are or were unaware of it. As actions have a meaning because they are performed in order to achieve a certain goal, the historical process in its totality is the means of achieving a certain goal, be it the Absolute Mind or the classless society. Following this strategy only makes sense, of course, on the assumption that speculative systems are legitimate ways of dealing with the past. Two ques-

4. F.R. Ankeramit, "The Dilemma of Contemporary Anglo-Saxon Philosophy of History," History and Theory. Beiheft 25 (1986), 1-27.
5. F.R. Ankersmit, "The Use of Language in the Writing at History," in Working with Language, ed. H. Coleman (Berlin, 1986).


tions have to be considered in this connection. In the first place, there is the question whether speculative systems are acceptable from historical and philosophical points of view. As is well known, authors like Popper, Von Hayek, and Mandelbaum did not think so, but recently there is considerably more tolerance towards speculative systems than there used to be. Let us therefore suspend our judgment on that point. All the more important, therefore, is the second question. Assuming the acceptability of speculative systems, can we credit them with having discovered the meaning of history? It might be objected that using the term "meaning" with regard to the historical process as interpreted by speculative systems is an unwarranted personification of the historical process: we use the term only when people do something in order to achieve something else. An even more serious obstacle standing in the way of our talking about the "meaning of the historical process" is the fact that even "ordinary" historiography cannot be said to discover the (hidden) meaning of history; at most one can say that historians give a meaning to the past. Thus Munz wrote in a vein curiously reminiscent of Derrida: "for the truth of the matter is that there is no ascertainable face behind the various masks every story-teller, be he a historian, poet, novelist or myth-maker, is creating"": the past has no face and the masks made by historians are alt we have. Thus, as soon as we leave the sphere of intentional human action, the past has no intrinsic meaning, hidden or otherwise; and it is decidedly odd to talk about interpreting the meaning of something which has no intrinsic meaning.

Odd, yes, but impossible? Suppose we are confronted with a collection of words arbitrarily jumbled together so that we can be sure that the collection itself has no meaning. Nevertheless, Stanley Fish would probably say that we would be able to interpret the "meaning" of even this "text"7 – in the way we can see a ship in a cloud. He might argue that there is no good reason to adhere to an object-bound meaning of meaning: to do so is to engage in metaphysical antics. There is meaning as soon as readers read texts or what they decide to see as texts. In short, meaning should be associated with a certain practice: the practice of interpretation – regardless of what is interpreted – has or does not have intrinsic meaning (the latter disjunction even is imaginary). However, precisely this reliance on practice speaks strongly against such extreme tolerance with regard to the meaning of meaning and interpretation. For what restraints could be imposed on this practice of giving meaning? Supposing we start ascribing intentions to physical objects, what considerations would be able to guide us in discussions about these intentions? (The fact that we are not empty-handed in discussions about what is intrinsically meaningless in the past is not an argument against this view. On the contrary: this fact proves that a role is played by another factor whose existence was obscured by the vocabulary of meaning; and interpretation

6. P. Munz, The Shapes of Time (Middletown, 1978), 16, 17.
7. S. Fish, "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One," in Is There a Text in This Class (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).


for this vocabulary cannot explain why we are not empty-handed in such discussions.)

Let us now turn to the second strategy for neutralizing the argument that the past has no intrinsic meaning. I am referring to the strategy adopted by, for instance, Hayden White and Ricoeur when they claim that the past is like a text and thus has, like the text, a meaning of its own. Whether White and Ricoeur want us to take the statement "the past is a text" in the literal sense or only metaphorically is not always clear from their writings. Apart from difficulties depending on how the claim is defended,8 a simple objection can be made to this strategy. If texts are really meaningful texts (and if they are not, they offer White and Ricoeur no consolation) they are always about something outside the text itself. (I shall ignore the problem posed by fictional texts which clearly have no bearing upon this discussion.) We may wonder, then, what the text that the past is could possibly be about. And our inability to answer this question speaks strongly against White's and Ricoeur's proposal to see the past as a text.

Hence, the vocabulary of description and explanation and that of meaning and interpretation both have their inadequacies. They tend to focus the attention of the philosopher of history on what is of relatively little significance in modern historiography. That is why I now propose a third vocabulary: that of representation. It is often said in common parlance that the historian represents the past (instead of describing or interpreting it). The vocabulary of representation has the advantage of not being suggestive of the kind of presuppositions the other two vocabularies gave rise to. The suggestion is rather that the historian could meaningfully be compared to the painter representing a landscape, a person, and so on- The implication is, obviously, a plea for a rapprochement between philosophy of history and aesthetics.


Unlike the vocabulary of description and explanation, the vocabulary of representation has the capacity to account not only for the details of the past but also for the way these details have been integrated within the totality of the historical narrative. The predilection of the "covering-law model" tradition and of analytical hermeneutics for the details of the historical narrative has been observed by many commentators and needs no elucidation; when we speak, on the other hand, of historical representations, we naturally think of complete historical narratives. More interestingly, the vocabulary of representation, unlike the vocabulary of interpretation, does not require that the past itself have a meaning. Representation is indifferent to meaning. Yet the historical text itself does have a meaning. It follows that the vocabulary of representation can help us to ex-

8. H. White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe (Baltimore, 1973), 30; P. Ricoeur, "The Model of the Text: Meaningful Actions Considered as a Text," in Interpretive Social Science, ed. P. Rabinow and W. M. Sullivan (Berkeley, 1979).


plain the coming into being of meaning out of what does not yet have meaning. Meaning is originally representational and arises from our recognition of how other people (historians, painters, novelists) represent the world. It requires us to look at the world through the eyes of others – or, at least, to recognize that this can be done. Meaning has two components; the world and the insight that it can be represented in a certain way, that it can be seen from a certain point of view. We must therefore disagree with the hierarchical order of representation and hermeneutics proposed by Gadamer when he writes that "die Asthetik muss in der Hermeneutik aufgehen."9 The reverse is in fact true: aesthetics, as the philosophy of representation, precedes that of interpretation and is the basis for explaining the latter. On the other hand, we can agree with Gadamer, in that the gap between the Geisteswissenschaften and the Naturwissenschaften is primarily existential rather than methodological in nature; for it was representation that brought about our expulsion from the natural world and meaning was given to us in return for the paradise we thus lost. The sciences and hermeneutics are situated on opposite sides of the dividing line embodied in representation.

If, then, the sciences are closer to representation than to the interpretation of meaning, it will be necessary to point out the differences between the sciences and representation. Scientific theories are not representations of the world: they allow us to formulate statements expressing states of affairs that have never been realized in the actual world. Representation, on the other hand, is only concerned with the world as it is or was. Scientific statements have a model or hypothetical character (with the form: if ... then . . .); representation is categorical.

A difficulty arises at this point. If we think of fiction and paintings of fictional landscape, it may look as if artistic representation, like science, has the capacity to represent that which has never been realized, nor will ever be realized in the actual world. Goodman has dealt with this difficulty in his characteristically effective way. What, for example, does a picture of Pickwick or a picture of a unicorn represent? Goodman's answer to this question is essentially concerned with the logic of the term representation. The term should be understood in such a way that the phrase "a represents b" does not imply anything with regard to the existence of b. And this can be achieved if phrases like "a picture representing Pickwick" or "representing a unicorn" are seen "as unbreakable one-place predicates, or class-terms like 'desk' and 'table.' We cannot reach inside any of them and quantify over parts of them."10 In this way, representation in fiction does not commit us to the existence of what is represented, nor even to its existence being possible. Moreover, I have demonstrated elsewhere that we can conceive of fiction as representing states of affairs the possibility of whose existence is not only ruled out by the physical laws known to us but even by logical rules." And take the drawings of Escher. Surely these drawings are representations, they are about

9. H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit and MethwSe (Tubingen, 1960), li7.
10. N. Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis, 1985), 21, 22-
11. F.R. Ankersmit Narrative Logic A Semantic Analysis of the Historian's Language (The Hague, 1983), 199.


something (for example, a logical inconsistency), but what they are about could never be realized in (historical) reality. The curious problem with these drawings is rather what we understand when we think we understand them: do we understand the drawing or do we understand why we do not understand the drawing? Can we understand or do we only recognize a logical inconsistency? In any case, we can be sure that there is no symmetry between the hypothetical statements made by the scientist and representation in fiction.

Goodman's suggestion that his unbreakable one-place predicates weaken the link between reality (or what it might possibly be like) and representation raises the question of how representation and epistemology are related. At first sight we might feel that representation is undeniably a way of speaking about reality and therefore of professional interest to the epistemologist. On the other hand, if the term can still be used legitimately with regard to drawings of Pickwick, unicorns, or of Escher's perspectivist paradoxes, it begins to look as if representation and epistemology are at right angles to one another. With regard to this problem, however, Goodman makes a useful distinction. He states that the phrase "a represents b" is ambiguous, meaning a) what the picture in question is about or b) the kind of picture that is indicated by the phrase (the picture may be a "Pickwick picture" or a "unicorn picture").11 The second meaning of the phrase takes care of the Pickwick and unicorn drawings. That leaves us with the first meaning and, since "being about" does raise epistemological questions, the relevance of epistemology for representation seems fairly obvious.

Yet this conclusion would be rash. This becomes clear if we remember Rorty's views on the history of epistemology. Rorty demonstrated that epistemology only came into being as the result of Descartes' postulate of a. forum internum "in which bodily and perceptual sensations. . . and all the rest of what we now call 'mental' were objects of quasi-observations."" Within the Aristotelian tradition previous to Descartes, there was only the world and the intellect grasping truths about the world. The gap created by Descartes between our "inner eye" and reality – the inner eye can only observe the representation of reality in the, forum internum – would have to be closed up again in some way or another if one wanted to account for the possibility of knowledge of the world; and to epistemology was assigned the task of doing so. A parallelism was thus suggested between epistemology and representation: epistemology describes how reality is represented in the mind of the transcendental ego. Aesthetic theories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with their tendency to equate pictorial representation with sensory perception, reinforced this parallelism further.

The difficulty is, however, that the phrase "a represents b" is indeterminate with regard to the relation between a and b to a degree that could never be tolerated within even the most liberal of epistemologies. A circle may represent the sun, a coin, a city on the map, and so on. As we alt know, representation is sub-

12. Goodman, 22.
13. R. Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Oxford, 1980), 50.


ject to context and tradition – perhaps even to simple agreement–which would certainly be an absurd claim in the case of epistemology. In this respect, representation calls to mind the way Rorty described the pre-Cartesian situation before the introduction of the ahistorical sheet of the universal, transcendental ego onto which the indubitable truths were projected. Within the earlier view, knowledge was an attribute of the human individual, rather than a representation on the wipersonal sheet of the transcendental ego. Consequently, all knowledge was closely connected with the historical contingencies of the world and of the human individuals living in it; the conception of a body of eternal, context-independent truths to be contemplated in our inner selves would have been incomprehensible. The pre-Cartesian, Aristotelian view of knowledge is, therefore, much closer to representation than to what we have understood by knowledge since the victory of the Cartesian, epistemological view of knowledge.

Moreover, philosophy as a way of thinking has a built-in tendency we cannot afford to disregard in this connection. Philosophy has always had a perennial inclination to generalize about the topics being discussed. If what the epistemologist has to say about the transcendental ego were not applicable to each individual, he or she would be engaged in either speculative science or bad philosophy – or even both. The psychologist does not need to maintain that the faculties of perception he or she investigates are exactly alike for all individuals. but the entities created or postulated by the epistemologist require absolute generality, precisely because they are not found and therefore are not subject to the contingencies of the real world. In this way philosophy is the most democratic of all disciplines. However, these universalist pretensions of epistemology prevent its coming to terms with the indeterminacy of representation, which, as is demonstrated by the history of art, is one of its most conspicuous features. Accordingly, we could see epistemology as the attempt to codify a certain form or forms of representation. Epistemology is representation without history and without the representational varieties which gradually developed in the history of representation. There is, therefore, a natural coalition between history and representation and a natural enmity between this coalition and epistemology. When history is eliminated and representation codified, they both cease to exist and epistemology makes its appearance in their place.

This recognition of the nature of the relation between epistemology and representation allows us to see what is not correct in the claim made by both idealist aestheticians and by Goodman that art is a form of cognition: "truth and its aesthetic counterpart amount to appropriateness under different names."14 We can, to a certain extent, agree with this claim, but it should be qualified. The relation between scientific truth and its aesthetic counterpart runs parallel to that between epistemology and representation. Science is codified representation and epistemology investigates the nature and the foundation of the codification pro-

14. Goodman, 264.


cess. The insights of artistic representation are broader and deeper (because un-codified) than those of science (though both will prefer their favorite domain).

And considerations such as these also have their implications for the problem of relativism in history (and art). Relativism as a philosophical problem arises when historical changes are observed in our codified, scientific views of the world. Relativism therefore has its origin in the line of fracture between epistemology and representation. This state of affairs entails that relativism cannot be a problem in art and history: both are safely situated on the representation-side of that tine of fracture. But, it might be objected, have not art and history also had their changes in representation? However, these historical changes are changes in style and have no epistemological implications. Different scientific traditions give rise to the epistemotogist's nightmare of relativism; different styles in history and art are different ways of representing (historical) reality. And since the terms a and b in the phrase "a represents b" give rise to exactly the same epistemological problems, representation is indifferent to epistemology. Consequently, stylistic change in art and history is free from relativist implications. Only, when artists or historians begin to see themselves as scientists and want their representational insights to be codified, they will be caught in the webs of relativism. On the other hand, relativism is a problem for science, since science and its history (the source of most relativist worries) are situated on different sides of the line of fracture mentioned above. I therefore disagree with Bernstein's too easy solution for relativism with regard to science when he writes: "relativism ultimately makes sense (and gains its plausibility) as the dialectical antithesis to objectivism. If we see through objectivism, if we expose what is wrong with this way of thinking, then we are at the same time questioning the very intelligibility of relativism."15 By requiring us to "see through objectivism"–which is Bernstein's label for epistemology – Bernstein's strategy amounts to transferring science to the same side as representation. As we have seen in the previous paragraph, this cannot be done.

We can summarize as follows; the vocabulary of representation when used for speaking about the writing of history is free from the less fortunate presuppositions associated with the vocabularies of explanation and interpretation. It will therefore be worthwhile to analyze the writing of history in terms of representation. Such an analysis can be expected to have wider implications, since it could teach us something about the possibilities and limitations of epistemology. The inestimable positive achievement of epistemology has been to create in the transcendental ego the indispensable platform that is a prerequisite for all science. Its limitation, however, has been that in attributing all cognitive primacy to the transcendental ego it has effected the melting away of both reality itself and the representation of reality in art and in history. Epistemology has thus created the unpleasant dilemma of having to choose between a realistic and an idealistic interpretation of scientific knowledge. Moreover, the representation of reality by

15. R. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (Oxford, 1984), 166-167.


the individual not reducible to a transcendental ego has since then been seen as a doubtful enterprise from a cognitive point of view.


For a comparison of art and history it could easily be thought that history and the history of art would be the terms of comparison. There is, however, an asymmetry between history tout court and the history of art. Like the painter, the historian represents (historical) reality by giving it a meaning, through the meaning of his text, that reality does not have of itself; the art historian, on the other hand, studies the meaningful representations of reality created by the artist. In history there is often, though not always, a "dehors texte" (which Derrida would like to exclude completely), whereas Derrida's statement "il n'y a pas dehors texte" does make sense with regard to the history of art or literary criticism. Rather, the art historian is on a par with the historian of historiography – both generally avoid the domain between meaning and that which has no meaning. In order to avoid confusion, both – the history of art and the history of historiography-can better be called "criticism.16

I propose, therefore, to see the writing of history from the point of view of aesthetics. Although never very popular, this is of course a familiar move in the history of philosophy of history. Quintilianus wrote "historia est proxima poesis et quodammodo carmen solutum," a statement that was echoed some eighteen hundred years later by Ranke–without, however, the latter being very specific about where this poetic nature of historiography was to be found.16 More explicit was Nietzsche when he required of the historian "eine grosse kiinstlerische Potenz, ein schaffendes Daruberschweben, ein liebendes Versenktsein in die em-pirische Data, ein Weiterdichten an gegebnen Typen," in one word: "das Kiinst-lerauge."17 But the customary point of departure for a rapprochement between aesthetics and history is Croce's well-known essay "La storia ridotta sotto il concetto generate dell'arte" of 1890. As Hayden White has pointed out, the substance of Croce's argument in this early essay was somewhat less spectacular than Croce himself and his contemporaries liked to believe. At the end of the last century, philosophers of history like Windelband and Rickert argued that the sciences are nomothetical and the "Geisteswissenschaften" idiographic. In fact, in his essay Croce merely substituted the term "art" for "idiographic science" without changing the structure of the argument of his neo-Kantian predecessors.18 History should be subsumed under the concept of art since both represent the particular as such.

If we try to derive a theory of representation from Croce's views, this theory will amount to the thesis that both history and art represent the particular, whereas science subsumes the particular under general laws. At first sight this seems to

16. F.R. Ankersmit, "De chiastische verhouding tussen literatuur en geschiedenis," Spektator 16 (1987), 91-106.
17. F. Nietzsche, Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historic fur das Leben (1874] (Stuttgart, 1970),61.
18. White, 383.


be a reasonable proposal: paintings always represent individual states of affairs. But it could be objected that we are falling victim to artistic Philistinism here. Thus Danto discusses two paintings representing respectively Newton's first and third laws.l9 Both paintings, showing a single horizontal line on the canvas, happen to be exactly alike, but that need not concern us here. If Danto's example is accepted, it contradicts Croce's intuitions about the distinction between art and science. For Danto's pictures represent laws of nature and not some (historical) state of affairs. Nevertheless, Croce could save his position by replying that Danto's pictures represent the/act that in our universe objects happen to behave in conformity with the laws in question. However, this reply has the undesirable consequence of once again obliterating the distinction Croce wanted to justify.

But surely Danto's examples are somewhat exotic. Let us therefore grant Croce that most paintings are representations of landscapes, still-lifes, sea battles, the Duke of Wellington, and so on. Croce is no doubt correct in claiming that such paintings represent particulars as such and in this respect differ from the way in which the scientist describes the world. But even then I wonder whether Croce's views will be of much help in understanding representation. More specifically, it should be noted that Croce's views do not concern representation as such but only the nature of what is represented (that is, individual states of affairs). It is as if we were trying to define automobiles in terms of the loads they can carry.

A similar tendency to avoid representation itself and to focus on a more subsidiary problem can be detected in Goodman's influential theory about representation. Right at the beginning of his book Goodman boldly declares that "denotation is the core of representation and is independent of resemblance."20 With regard to the latter part of this claim, Goodman demonstrates that representation does not entail resemblance. Nothing resembles x more than x itself, yet we do not say that x represents itself. Moreover, pictures always resemble each other more than what they represent. That leaves us with the former part of the claim, the claim that a picture, "to represent an object, must be a symbol for it, stand for it, refer to it."" Since Goodman offers no argument to support his claim, it is difficult to say whether we should see it as a view subject to rational debate or as a sort of stipulative definition. In any case, in whatever way we read the claim that representation essentially is denotation, it makes us wonder in what way representation differs from all the other devices we have at our disposal to denote something. So the claim has to be amplified. Resemblance having been ruled out, we might consider the requirement of realism. Hence, a is a representation of b if 1) a denotes b and 2) a satisfies the requirements of realism. But what the realist requires in one age or culture may be incomprehensible in another. Goodman concludes: "realism is relative, determined by the system of representation standard for a given culture or person at a given time;"11 "realism

19. A. C. Danto, The Transfiguralion of the Commonplace (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), 120-121.
20. Goodman, 5.
21. Idem.
22. Goodman, 37.


is a matter not of any constant or absolute relationship between a picture and its object but of a relationship between the system of representation employed in the picture and the standard system."23

How true, we might feel like exclaiming, but how disappointing! All we have now is that a represents b if 1) a denotes b and 2) the nature of a as a representation of b is entirely a matter of convention, which is, of course, a sophisticated way of saying nothing. Thus, in a way reminiscent of Croce, Goodman also attempts to avoid addressing the question of what representation is. And, as we saw in Croce's case, the result is that representation becomes the vaguest of notions, so that anything can be the representation of anything else. For Goodman a representation is a mere symbol for what it represents, in the way a name may refer to anything we wish it to refer to. He therefore likes to speak of art, once again like Croce, as a kind of language- Both ascribe to art a cognitive capacity because, like language, it is a system of symbols capable of conveying meaning. Art becomes a kind of pictography in which the meaning of the symbols is determined by convention. But precisely for that reason nobody would call pictography art, moreover, the meaning of the work of art is expressed in it (it attracts our attention to itself in a way linguistic symbols never do) and not by it (as we read the symbols of a rebus or a pictographic text).

But even the substance of Goodman's theory–representation is denotation–is unconvincing. Let us take an ideal example of representation. If we see a representation of Napoleon at Madame Tussaud's, there is something odd about the assertion that this representation "denotes" Napoleon. If that were all it did, we might wonder why the staff of Madame Tussaud's went to such lengths to fabricate the representation. We have less complicated symbols at our disposal if we want to denote something. But the fact that there is not just a metal plate at Madame Tussaud's with the inscription "Napoleon" or some identifying description of that person proves that there is more to representation than is suggested by Goodman. A representation of Napoleon is meant to show us what Napoleon looked like when he was alive. Or, to state the essence of the matter, when Madame Tussaud made a representation of Napoleon, she created it out of a dummy in such a way that most of what could be attributed to the physical appearance of the real Napoleon could also be attributed to the dummy. The dummy is a mere device to which the attributes can be attached. To use the language of the statement, in representation all emphasis is on the predicate, while the subject-term is a mere logical dummy that has no other function than to serve as a point d'appui for the predicates in question- And since only the subject-term in statements has the capacity to refer, we have good reason to believe Goodman incorrect when he states that denotation is the essence of representation-If we bear in mind that representation always requires the presence of non-referential dummies, we become all the more interested in Gombrich's and Danto's substitution theory of representation. Both Gombrich and Danto refer to the origins of art: originally, artistic representation of reality was not an imitation

23. Ibid., 38.


or mimesis of reality (as suggested by the intuition that the artistic representation should resemble what it represents) but a substitute for reality.

The artist had the power of making a given reality present again in an alien medium, a god or king in stone: the crucifixion in an effigy true believers would have regarded as the event itself, made miraculously present again, as chough it had a complex historical identity and could happen–the same event–at various times and places, roughly perhaps in the way in which the god Krishna was believed capable of simultaneously making love to countless cowgirls in the familiar legend.14

Art is both more and less than a mimesis of what is represented- It is more because reality itself is made present again in a certain disguise; it is less because even the crudest token or symbol may be sufficient to function as an artistic representation of reality (and that is where Goodman was correct). As Gombrich wrote in a famous essay: "the idol serves as the substitute of the God in worship and ritual–it is a man-made God in precisely the sense that the hobby horse is a man-made horse; to question it further means to court deception."-15 He epitomizes the substitution theory as follows: "all art is image-making and all image-making is'rooted in the creation of substitutes.""

At this point it is worthwhile to sound a note of warning against a most illuminating misunderstanding, if I may be allowed this paradox. Critics of Gombrich such as Richard Wollheim have interpreted Gombrich as wanting to say that, ideally, what is represented and its artistic representation are exactly identical and – so Wollheim goes on – "if we took the picture of an object to be that object, what would be left for us to admire?"" This interpretation of Gombrich's substitution theory owes much of its apparent plausibility to a fatal ambiguity in Gombrich's speculations on the psychology of perception. More than anybody else Gombrich is aware of "the myth of the innocent eye and of the absolute given,"18 How we ultimately see reality is the result of a complex process of interpreting the stimuli of visual perception,29 a process which is studied by perception psychology. This psychological barrier between what is really out there and how we, or the artist, perceive it, is largely responsible for that astonishing lack of constraint upon how reality is or should be represented by the artist–a lack of constraint that has given rise to the variety of styles we know from the history of art-30 Without that barrier, pictorial representation as we know it would make no sense; if we were to see the world as it is, Plato would be correct in

24. Danto, 20.
25. E.H. Gombrich, Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (London, 1973), 3.
26. Ibid., 9.
27. R. Wollheim, On Art and the Mind (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), 277; it must be noted, however, that Wollheim makes the criticism when discussing Gombrich's Art and Illusion. The criticism enjoys a certain popularity and can also be found in the work of Goodman and Danto. Both quote with approval a statement ascribed to Virginia Woolf: "art is not a copy of the world. One of the damn things is enough." See Goodman, 3.
28. The quotation is from Goodman, 8.
29. This is the main thesis of E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion (London, 1960); see, for example, 13.
30. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, 17.


maintaining that all artistry is deception. In other words, the phase of the interpretation of our visual stimuli creates that fundamental and persistent ambiguity in our perception of reality which the artist can make use of in order to give us an illusion of reality. Thus Gombrich's argument strongly suggests that art attempts to achieve the same effect on the observer as reality itself, while the ambiguities in visual perception have made possible this interchangeability of representation and what is represented. Consequently, whereas Gombrich's original substitution theory did not rule out dramatic differences between representation and what is represented (think of the difference between a hobby horse and a real horse), nor the awareness of such differences on the part of the observer, the main thesis of Art and Illusion has a tendency to reduce all artistic representation to trompe I'oeil effects. It was probably Gombrich's aversion to non-naturalist art that made him confuse the two views and to allow his original substitution theory (which was correct) to be compromised by his naturalist prejudices (correctly criticized by Wollheim).31 If this goes unnoticed, it will ultimately result in the victory of the epistemological model of representation. The similarity between reality itself and its artistic representation thus presupposed brings about the antithesis of reality an sich - that will forever remain unknown– and a transcendental ego, while the cognitive link between the two is made by means of the quasi-epistemological laws of perception psychology. Precisely because the original substitution theory does not require any similarity or resemblance between what is represented and its artistic representation, there is no danger of one falling back on the epistemological model. For obvious reasons, episteroology is helpless when asked why and how, for example, a simple stick can be the representation of a horse.

Danto's version of the substitution theory is therefore preferable to Gombrich's, since Danto states quite explicitly that a representation can never be exchanged for what it represents: "the pleasures taken in imitation are, accordingly, something of the same order as one takes in fantasies, where it is plain to the fantasist that it is a fantasy he is enjoying and that he is not deceived into believing that it is the real thing."31 But if the reality represented and its representation are not alike and if we want to avoid the other extreme of an empty Goodmanian conventionalism with regard to the relation between the two–where then should we look for the golden mean? Here Danto proposes a thesis that is both original and penetrating. It is his view that a symmetry exists between a representation and the reality it represents. That is to say, not only do we have the trivial truth

31. Gombrich's tendency to move away from the position he took up in his Meditations on a Hobby Horse to a more naturalist view of art has grown over the years. In Art and Wusmn he still rejected Aristotle's mimetic theory of art and preferred the more sophisticated view of Apollonius of Tyana (see An and Illusion, 154). But in his recent The Image and the Eye (London, 1982) he is much wore accommodating towards Aristotle. Gombrich's emphasis on "recall" and "recognition" has probably (see e.g. 12) strongly reinforced his naturalist tendencies.
32. See Danto, Transfiguration. For a perceptive and illuminating contrast of fantasy and imagination, see R. Scruton, "Fantasy, Imagination and the Screen," in The Aesthetic Understanding (London, 1983).


that a representation is a representation of reality but also the reverse: "something is 'real' when it satisfies a representation of itself, just as something is a 'bearer' when it is named by a name."31 Not only is a representation a symbol for reality, but reality is also a symbol for a representation, as is demonstrated by the ontological arrogance of many modern painters.14 Danto elaborates elsewhere on his remarkable thesis about the symmetries between representation and reality by stating that "artistic representation is logically tied up with putting reality at a distance" (italics mine).33 The idea seems to be that representation places us opposite reality and it is only in this way that we become aware of it as such. As long as reality is not represented we remain part of it and we can give no content to the notion of reality. We can only have a concept of reality if we stand in a relation to it and that requires that we are ourselves outside it. There is only reality insofar as we are standing opposite it.

At this point we might ask why the privilege of giving content to our concept of reality should be accorded to representation, Episteroologists like Kant, Schopenhauer, or the Wittgenstein of the Tractattis were also in the habit of postulating an opposition between reality and the transcendental ego which, as a condition for the possibility of all knowledge of reality, was itself outside reality. Yet Danto insists that science (and epistemology) do not have this capacity to give content to our concept of reality. Only artistic representation–and philosophy–can do this because of their interest in the gap between language and reality or between appearance (representation) and reality.36

If we want to explain why representation has the unique capacity Danto credits it with, it is most instructive to consider historical representation. As we will see later on, historiography is an even better paradigm of representation than art itself. Let us suppose, for simplicity's sake, that the narrative constructed by the historian in order to represent the past typically consists of a great number of individual statements describing states of affairs in the past. However, apart from their descriptive function, these narrative statements also individuate the historical narrative in which they occur. An historical narrative is what its statements determine it to be. These considerations require us, as I have pointed out else-where,37 to postulate a new logical entity: the "narrative substance." This new logical entity can be defined as follows. The narrative substance of an historical narrative is its set of statements that together embody the representation of the past that is proposed in the historical narrative in question. Thus, the statements of an historical narrative not only describe the past: they also individuate, or define, the nature of such a narrative substance- This enables us to introduce statements of the type "Ni is P," where "Ni" refers to a narrative substance (that

33. Danto, 81-
34. See section IV for what is meant by this "ontological arrogance."
35. A. C. Danto, "Artworks and Real Things," in Aesthetics Today, ed. M. Philipson and P, J. Gudel (New York, 1980), 323; see also Danto, Transfiguration, 78.
36. Danto, Transfiguration, 77.
37. Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, chapter V.


is, to a specific set of statements) and where "P" denotes the property of containing the statement p. We should observe that "Ni" is the name of a set of statements and should therefore not be confused with the narrative substance itself since names must be distinguished from what is named by them. It will be obvious that statements like "Ni is P"-that may be said to express the "narrative meaning" of the statement p – are all analytically true since the attribute of containing p is part of the meaning of the name "Ni." The analytical character of statements like "Ni is P" is the central theorem of narrative logic. Consequently, the narrative substance does not add anything to what the individual statements of the historical narrative express about the past – nevertheless, it is an indispensable postulate if we want to discuss the nature of historical representation. This demonstrates that the concept of the narrative substance is perfectly suited to fulfilling the role of those non-referential dummies discussed in connection with our criticism of Goodman's views on representation and our recommendation of those of Gombrich and Danto. Like these dummies, narrative substances hide, so to speak, behind the properties that can truly be attributed to them and, again like the dummies, they are yet a postulate necessary for the possibility of representation since only they allow us to show (historical) reality in an alien medium (that is, that of the narrativist universe of which the narrative substance is a part).

This shows, first, that Danto was correct in claiming for representation a position different from that of science. Representation involves the postulation of logical dummies like the narrative substances that are redundant in the case of the sciences- These logical dummies give representational language an opacity unknown in science: every statement we make about the past is absorbed into the gravitational field of the narrative substance in question and owes its narrative meaning to it. In the case of the sciences, we are concerned only with the truth or validity of statements; in (historical) representation, the truth of statements about the past is more or less taken for granted – what counts is that one specific set of statements, and not another, has been proposed and the narrative substance determines the nature of the proposal. The logical dummies required by the substitution theory of representation mark the distinction between science and representation.

This brings us to a second topic. What point can be given to Danto's claim that representation "puts reality at a distance," that it gives rise to a "concept of reality?" Here the crucial datum is that "the concept of reality" is just as much a dummy-concept as the narrative substances we just discussed. For we might with good reason define reality as that for which our true statements are true. If we accept the definition, the notion becomes cognitively redundant since it does not allow us to say more about "reality" than it would be possible for us to say without making use of the notion. Science would surely not be hampered at all in its development if we were to eliminate the word "reality" from our dictionaries. The states of affairs as identified by scientific statements and theories are sufficiently clear and the use of "the concept of reality" might even prove to be a serious obstacle to meaningful scientific debate. Where the relation be-


tween words and things has sufficient clarity, "the concept of reality" is of no positive use.

But in the case of representation the dummies of the substitution theory require the corresponding dummy of "the concept of reality." For suppose we left the latter concept out of our account of representation- The result would be the abandonment of an entity for which all the statements of an (historical) representation are true. And with the disappearance of this entity the narrative substance would disintegrate as well: what would be left for it to represent? I will not deny that one might nevertheless persist in condemning the concept of reality as a metaphysical redundancy; after all, one can assert without fear of contradiction that everything outside science is ill-founded nonsense. However, a scientistic approach such as this, rather than being the starting point for another theory about representation, just prohibits the development of one.

We thus get the following symmetric picture. Squeezed between two logical dummies that do not add anything to our knowledge of the world–narrative substances and our concept of reality–we find the true statements historians make about the past. These statements are true of both reality (the latter dummy) and of the narrative substances they are part of (the former kind of dummy) since every statement "Ni is P" (or "Ni contains P"), where p is a statement contained by the narrative substance Ni and where"?" denotes the property of containing p, must be analytically true. Narrative substances are the representation of historical reality. This is exactly the same as the case of Madame Tussaud's Napoleon; there we would also claim the presence of a dummy for which the same statements we could make about the "real" Napoleon are also true. Consequently, we can agree with Danto's claim that representation puts reality at a distance if we take it to mean that in representation (in contrast to science) two logical dummies are opposed to each other and that this opposition is the condition necessary for representation to be possible.

It is undoubtedly true that Danto's thesis "esse est representari"38 has an idealistic ring to it; is not the upshot of his argument that historical reality is what we think it is? We might be prepared to grant the artist his representational freedom; having had the proper education in art and criticism, we have been taught not to be Philistines telling the artist that reality is different from his representation of it. But with regard to historical representation such Philistinism is generally considered to be the proper attitude. We believe, moreover, that historical debate in the majority of cases is decidable in a way debates about different artistic fashions are not. Many historians and philosophers are even adamant that history is a science.

At the risk of being accused of a perverse propensity to paradox, I will point out below that the reverse is in fact true. If we decide that the argument of the previous pages is idealistic, historiography is even more idealistic than art. How-38. In view of what was said in the first section I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing Dante's own "esae est interpretari;" see Dante? Transfiguration, 125.


ever, in the remainder of this section I shall attempt to show that even historiography cannot be meaningfully called idealistic. And, if even this most "idealistic" form of representation is free of idealism in the ordinary sense of the word, we can conclude that representation transcends the old debate about realism and idealism. Epistemology gives rise to that debate; representation does not.

With regard to representation, it will be obvious that the artist is in a more comfortable position than the historian. We can emphasize, as did Gombrich, the uncertainties of our visual perception of the world of things as much as we like, but we should never let this make us forget that landscapes and human faces, and so on are given to us in a way that the past never is. It is precisely Gombrich's almost effortless move from illusionism to naturalism that suggests that there is room in art for a simple "look and see" ideology that could never be plausible in historiography- There is, so to speak, a "synonymy" in the objects represented by the artist that is painfully absent in the historical representation of the past-More than is so of artistic representation, the past is how we represent it. I am not thinking here of the simple fact that worried Oakeshott, Collingwood, and Goldstein so much,39 the fact that we cannot directly perceive the past in the way we can directly perceive landscapes and human faces. What concerns me is, rather, that the links between representation and what is represented are far more fragile in historiography than in art. Historical representations are not so much contradicted by historical reality itself but by other historical representations;40 appealing to what reality is like has much more force in art than in history. We could liken historical reality to a classical theater where a great number of subsequent sets of scenery are placed at different distances from the proscenium. Which scenery will the historian focus his attention on? It seems as if there is no resistance preventing him from moving freely from one set of scenery to another- Nothing here is rigid and fixed; everything gives way easily under the slightest pressure. Representation is above all a question of demarcating contours, of indicating where one object or entity "ends" and another "begins." Representation deals with the contrast between the foreground and the background, between what is important and what is irrelevant. If we bear this in mind, we cannot for a moment doubt that the demarcation line between, for example, the sky and the trees painted by the painter is much clearer than that between, for example, Hazard's Crise de la conscience ewopeenne and the Enlightenment, or between different aspects of the Enlightenment. Here the contours, and representation, are what historical debate wants them to be.

The painter has a frame, a canvas, the laws of perspective that allow him to define these contours and demarcation lines. Although one might argue, as does Fain, that historians have a similar expedient at their disposal in the speculative systems,41 this expedient is often rejected by practicing historians and if it is not,

39. I am referring to what is known in philosophy of history as "constructivism." See History and Theory. Beihefs 16 (1977).
40. F.R. Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, 245-
41. H. Eain, Between Philosophy and History (Princeton, 1971).


it remains vague and unreliable. The reliance upon chronology (a kind of historical perspective), causality, psychological or sociological laws, and so on, is the most obvious alternative. But as is suggested by the growing skepticism on the part of historians with regard to the help to be expected from the social sciences, these expedients have also lost much of the popularity they enjoyed some twenty years ago.

The only clear contours the past has are of a modal nature: they distinguish between what did happen and what might have happened but did not (and even these contours are only to be found on the rather elementary level of historical facts). On the other hand, the contours the artist has to deal with are contours within the world seen by him. The contours for the historian are such that they distinguish between what is and what is not. In the world in which we live and which is represented by the artist, we all recognize familiar patterns (trees, human beings, buildings, and so on); in the past, on the other hand, such patterns are never given but always have to be developed or postulated. Although, admittedly, at an elementary (and therefore not interesting) level certain patterns also tend to recur in the past, as soon as we come to the much more interesting level of historical debate, historical phenomena are never recognized in the way we recognize the objects of our daily life. In history, it is as if we had to recognize a rabbit or a duck in the well-known rabbit-duck drawing without ever having seen a duck or a rabbit. The historian's practice is in some ways the reverse of answering the Rohrschach test: the historian has to find a hitherto unknown pattern in a medley of relatively familiar things human beings did, wrote, or thought in the past.

If, then, the historian's cognitive predicament is even greater than that of the artist, if his task is like that of discovering patterns of clouds in other patterns of clouds, if nothing seems certain and fixed except for historiographical traditions, practices, or possibly, prejudices, what chance does the historian have of avoiding idealism, of avoiding a modeling of the past in conformity with preconceived ideas that meet with hardly any resistance? Are we not doomed to an idealistic interpretation of historical writing since of all disciplines – including even art–the object of historical writing least has a substance of its own and only comes into being thanks to historical representation? Here we encounter the more general philosophical lesson to be learned from our analysis of historical interpretation. For in view of what has just been said, it will be obvious that historical representation is the perfect background for a discussion of realism and idealism. Nobody, and certainly no practicing historian, will for a moment believe that the past is merely an idea of our own–and yet we have seen that the idealist thesis is particularly persuasive in the case of historiography. Historical representation seems congenial to both the realist and the idealist position. Historiography is optimally suited, therefore, to the debate about realism and idealism because it is the discipline of representation par excellence–even more so than artistic representation.

First of all, historical representation allows us to give precise meanings to the idealist and realist positions. In historical representation we are confronted with


two sets of logical dummies – the narrative substances and the concept of reality, If we bestow an ontologlcal status on the former kind of dummy, idealism will be the result; onto log izat ion of the concept of reality gives us realism. But in neither case is there any need for ontological commitment; logical dummies were all we found at the end of both the route suggested by the idealist and that suggested by the realist. So we can just as well be neither as both.

The most peculiar feature of this position in the debate about realism and idealism is its neutrality, or, to use a more suitable expression, its evenhanded-ness with regard to the two alternatives in the debate. What is accorded the realists should also be accorded the idealists. We may decide to see only logical dummies if we prefer to avoid any ontological commitment, but in that case we have to take up that position with regard to both narrative substances and the concept of reality. On the other hand, we might prefer to call whatever true statements are true of "real"– and in that case we must ontologize both narrative substances and the concept of reality. In other words, in the former case we are neither idealist nor realist, whereas in the latter we should be both. In both cases, however, the dilemma of choosing bet ween the idealist and the realist options has become meaningless: what point could there possibly be in choosing for realism if that would of necessity imply choosing for idealism as well? By tilting it ninety degrees the problem can no longer meaningfully be stated.

Finally, it should be observed that if epistemology is chosen instead of representation as the background for the debate, the debate cannot be concluded in such a satisfactory way. The relation between knowledge and the world does not present us with anything like the symmetric relation between the two kinds of logical dummies discussed above. Anyone who uses the vocabulary of epistemology will continue to hesitate between realism and idealism; only the vocabulary of representation allows us to rob the debate of all significance and, therefore, in a way to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.


One of the most frequently discussed problems in contemporary aesthetics is the problem of the ontological status of works of art. Of course, the object of art–be it a painting or a sculpture-is a physical object with certain properties (weight, color, composition, and so on.) not giving rise to specific ontological problems. But because most philosophers of art do not wish to identify the aesthetic characteristics of the work of art with its physical aspects "they have been led to postulate a special nonphysical 'aesthetic object' which is supposed to be the real work of art and the bearer of aesthetic qualities." This postulate became virtually a dogma of twentieth-century aesthetics.""2 A variety of theories was developed to account for these aesthetic qualities, most striking of which was Danto's and Dickie's so-called "institutional theory of art."

That the ontological status of the "aesthetic object" referred to in the quota-

42. B. R. Tilghman, But Is If Art? (Oxford, 1984), 21.


tion suddenly became a matter of urgency, is closely connected with evolutions in modern art. Here I am thinking specifically of the tradition that began with Duchamp's "ready-mades." These ready-mades – think of Duchamp's urinal, Oldenburg's hole in the ground, or Warhol's Brillo box– posed the problem of why they were works of art, while their less illustrious counterparts were not. Since there was no difference between these ready-mades and their counterparts which were not in museums, it was necessary at this point that the ontological question of the nature of the "aesthetic object" be answered. This development in modern art has been described in a number of ways. Because of the exact similarity of the ready-mades with their less conspicuous equals, one could for obvious reasons speak of the "de-materialization of the art object" or, equally obviously, of the "de-aesthetization of art." But in the context of the present discussion the evolution could best be circumscribed as the last and ultimate victory of representation. At least, this is how Danto wants to see it. His argument is that precisely because of the exact similarity between the ready-mades in their artistic function and their counterparts outside the museum, the notion of the "aesthetic object" no longer has any anchor in the work of art as such. Surely it makes sense to say that there is an "aesthetic object" apart from paint and canvas which conveys the aesthetic meaning of a painting by, for instance, Watteau. But if we think of the ready-mades, the "aesthetic object" is exclusively "the beholder's share," is exclusively contained in the way we wish to look at the object of art. In an Hegelian fashion the ready-mades are the Aufhebung of art, and art has become a purely intellectual - or, for that matter, philosophical – affair- Traditionally, artistic representation had always needed an alien medium in order to express itself; with the gradual disappearance of the "aesthetic object," only the pure idea of artistic representation remains and this pure idea manifests itself in a paradoxical way in the very identifying of the ready-mades with their more common counterparts. In other words, the logical dummies involved in all (artistic) representation demonstrate that they are mere dummies in the startling fact that there is no difference between a Brillo box in the museum and one at the grocer's. Surely, this is a phase that representation will never be able to surmount. On the other hand, it could be said that the history of artistic representation has not toppled over its culmination point and has returned to its original point of departure. The similarity between the ready-mades and how the substitution theory of art sees the origin of art will need no elucidation.

Together with the gradual disappearance of the "aesthetic object," the material aspects of the work of art tend to substantialize- They are no longer merely the means for the achievement of an illusion of reality, not a glassy screen we look through, but they tend to draw the spectator's attention to their "raw" and uninterpreted physical qualities. Modern works of art demonstrate a tendency to return, so to speak, into their physical qualities. Most illuminating is Danto's remark urging us to look at the brush-strokes of modern painting as saying, in effect, about itself, that it is a stroke and not a representation of anything. Which the indiscernible strokes made by housepainters cannot begin to say, though it is true that they are strokes and not representations. In perhaps the subtlest suite of paintings


in our time, such strokes–fat, ropy, expressionist–have been read with a deadly literal-ness of their makers' of the latter's ideologues' intention as (mere) real things,43

We no longer look through the representative medium of art but see only it. Art becomes like a metaphor for which no literal analogue can be found, yet which achieves this effect by being merely literal itself.

It seems likely that something like this is also discernible in modern historiography, One of the most peculiar features of modern historiography is the popularity of books like Le Roy Ladurie's MontaUlou, Ginzburg's so-called "microstories," or Natalie Davis's The Return of Martin Guerre, works that might be considered to represent the postmodernist tradition in historiography,4'1 Post-modernist, because the pretensions of the modernist or structuralist representation of the past were recognized as a self-contradictory enterprise and because the past is shown here in the guise of apparently trivial events like the inquiry of the Inquisition in fourteenth-century Montaillou, or the abstruse cosmolog-ical speculations of a sixteenth-century Italian miller, or in the guise of the true novel of a lost husband. As is well known, postmodernism has always been critical of the grandiose schemes of the modernist, scientistic approach to social reality and has always demonstrated a typically Freudian predilection for what is "repressed" as trivial, marginal, or irrelevant.

It is only too easy to underestimate the truly revolutionary character of these postmodernist historical studies. Since historiography has become conscious of itself and of the tasks it had set itself, it has always aimed at a representation of the past in the historical text. As in the case of naturalist painting, the historical narrative implicitly exhorted its reader to look through it and, in the same way as the brushstrokes of naturalist painting, the linguistic devices the historian had at his disposal allowed him to create an illusion of (past) reality. Philosophy of history, especially in its narrativist garb, investigated these linguistic devices of the historian, which were historiography's analogue to the "aesthetic object" of artistic representation.

With postmodernist historiography, however, doubt has been cast on all this. Instead of constructing a representation of the past in the alien medium of narrative discourse, these "microstories" themselves take on a reality that had previously only been attributed to the past we saw through historical representations. It is not surprising that Ginzburg once said of his The Cheese and the Worms that it was a footnote made into a whole book; the irrealis of traditional historical discourse ("if one accepts the proposal to see the past from this point of view, then . . , ") is exchanged for the ratio directs in which historical reality represents itself. Ginzberg's story of Menocchio is, therefore, the historiographical counterpart of those brush-strokes of modern painting that so much like to focus our attention on themselves. Parallel to the disappearance of the "aesthetic ob-

43. Danto, Artworks, 335.
44. I placed this variant of contemporary historiography in the postmodernist tradition in my "Tegen de verwetenschappelijking van de geschiedenis," in Batons en perspectlef, ed. P. den Boer, F.W.N. Hugenholtz, and T. van Tijn (Utrecht, 1956), 55-73.


ject" in art, we here observe the gradual disappearance of the intentionalist theses on the past which the classical historian ordinarily submitted to his audience. What remains are these "chunks of the past," these raw stories about apparently quite irrelevant historical occurrences that leave most contemporary historians just as baffled as the visitors to the museum of sixty years ago when they were confronted with Duchamp's ready-mades.

In a way reminiscent of the brush-stokes so characteristic of modern painting, "reality" has invaded representation in postmodernist historiography. This becomes clear if we take into account the reason why so many contemporary historians are both alarmed and repelled by the postmodernist innovation of their discipline. What they often understandably object to is the unashamedly anecdotal nature of the "microstories"; and because of their anecdotal character these historians wonder whether the "microstories" are not merely parasites on the older traditions in historiography. What would remain of our understanding of the past if all historiography were to take on the character of the "microstories?" Indeed, in combination with the older tradition, we can afford to have them but ultimately they are only a luxury that would never be able to replace the real thing. In fact, who cares about the musings of Menocchio as long as we are in the dark about that Promethean struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism that took place during Menocchio's lifetime or about that shift in the European economy from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic?

Before all, however, we should be clear about what we mean by the word "anecdote." We most often speak about anecdotes when we have in mind the petite-histoire written by, for instance, De Nolhac, Zweig, or Lenotre (the latter being, of course, a true master of the genre). The events related in this anecdotal historiography are always the results of more comprehensive historical developments not initiated by these events. What is told in this kind of historiography resembles, so to speak, the debris of history carried along by the river of time. More specifically, what the "microstories" of the petite-histoire tell us about is not representative of their time; other things (related by more serious historians) are representative of them. They are turned by the wheels of history without moving anything themselves. Lenotre's objects of study are epiphenomena of the French Revolution, but it would be nonsense to assert the reverse. And here we discover the difference between these anecdotes and the alleged "anecdotes" of postmodernist historiography. The "microstories" of postmodernist historiography are time-independent in a way anecdotes in the proper sense of the word never are. The "microstories" stand, so to speak, like solid rocks in the river of time. We could not derive Menocchio's opinions from the outillage mental of his time (if we could, Qinzberg's book would be anecdotal); nor do they help us to understand or to explain it. The "microstories" are not representative of anything, nor is anything else representative of them.

The effect of these "microstories" is thus to make historiography representative only of itself; they possess a self-referential capacity very similar to the means of expression used by the relevant modern painters. Just as in modern painting, the aim is no longer to hint at a "reality" behind the representation, but to absorb


"reality" into the representation itself. There is thus a striking parallelism between recent developments in art and in historiography; and we can expect that a closer investigation of this parallelism will further our insight into both lines of development.


We have found that the vocabulary of representation is better suited to an understanding of historiography than the vocabularies of description and interpretation. What the historian does is essentially more than describing and interpreting the past. In many ways historiography is similar to art, and philosophy of history should therefore take to heart the lessons of aesthetics. An unexpected reshuffling of the relations between the various disciplines resulted from this re-orientation in philosophy of history. Since both represent the world, art and historiography are closer to science than are criticism and the history of art because the interpretation of meaning is the specialty of the latter two fields. Somewhat surprisingly, it became clear that historiography is less secure in its attempt to represent the world than art is. Historiography is more artificial, even more an expression of cultural codes than art itself.

Perhaps because of its extraordinary lack of reliable foundations, historiography is a suitable paradigm for studying certain philosophical problems. We have found that historiography is the birthplace of meaning (to be investigated in a later phase by hermeneutic interpretation). Next, historical representation is the general background against which epistemology–codified representation-can fruitfully be studied. And the same is true for the realism versus idealism debate. It has been shown that representation always requires the presence of two sets of non-referential logical dummies and that disturbing the symmetry between these logical dummies gives rise to the position of realism and idealism. Epistemology is strongly inclined to disturb this symmetry; the whole debate is, therefore, only of limited significance.

Finally, the parallelism between recent developments in art and those in historiography demonstrated how much historiography really is part of the contemporary cultural world and that it ought to be studied in its relation to contemporary painting, sculpture, and literature. The deficiencies of modern philosophy of history can largely be explained by its tendency to neglect the cultural significance of the writing of history.

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, InstUuut voor Geschiedenis

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