LaCapra, Continued


My philosophical journal continues with further reflection on Dominick LaCapra’s Representing the Holocaust:  History, Theory, Trauma (Cornell University Press, 1994).


Friday, March 28, 2008

LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust, pp. 28-29:   “One sign of a science is that it no  longer reads its canonical authors.  To put it another way, it does not have a textual  canon or even competing canons.  It has relatively autonomous theories, textbooks, and problems . . .  Hence, a contemporary physicist need not read Newton or Einstein.”

Here, LaCapra’s use of the term ‘science’ could benefit from him displaying some of the very things he foregrounds in his  own discussions of historiography–mainly, it could benefit from a bit of historical “contextualization,” to use his term, of his own text, in its usage of ‘science.’

Clearly, the usage he has of that word in the above lines is  wholly uninformed and uninforming, so to speak, about the historically limited restriction of the correct use of “science” to cases such as he describes.  That is, what he says is true only if we fall uncritically into the modern equation of science with what Husserl, for example, calls “the exact/mathematical natural sciences,” of which modern physics is the model, as in LaCapra’s own text above.

With regard to the limits, however, of any such “contextualization,” a passage from LaCapra a few pages later [p.35] is insightful:  “If a text could be totally contextualized, it would paradoxically be ahistorical, for it would exist in a stasis in which it made no difference whatsoever. . . . If contextualization were fully explanatory, texts would be derivative items in which nothing new of different happened.”

Put paradoxically:  A completely historizing contextualization would miss the historical dimension of what is being contextualized.

Those LaCapra’s own usage [it  seems to me] moves [too] uncritically between the two senses, what his lines, especially in my paradoxical rewording, bring out is two very different, but complexly interrelated, uses of the very terms ‘history,’ ‘historical,’ and the like:

  1. “History” as “times past,” and
  2. “History” as happening, as event, which is the past that, to use
    Faulkner’s formula,not only “isn’t over yet,” but that “isn’t even past.”

A stab at some formulations of my own:

What is historical about any given phenomenon–“text,” “artifact,”occurrence”–is what in it “contextualizes” everything else.

In that same way/sense, art, the artwork, is historical:  It creates–draws forth and draws–context.  (Does that provide a way of rethinking Heidegger’s notion of art as the setting-itself-into-work of truth–a way of rethinking his notion that comes after and incorporates [Phillipe] Lacoue-Labarthe’s critique in [La fiction du politique:  Heidegger, l’art et la politique (Christian Bourgeois éditeur, 1987)]?  That is, might Heidegger be read to strip him of all mimetic trappings, in Lacoue-Labarthe’s sense, so that the “founding” movement in and as art is no longer thought as the provision of a copy/model, a model to be copied?  Might even the notion of fiction be recast along such lines?  So that the fictive/making/creative becomes the (re)contextualization of contextuality itself, in effect?)

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