Never the Twain Shall Meet? How Narrativism and Experience can be reconciled by Dialogical Ethics

History and Theory 54 (2):162-177 (2015)
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In this article, I question the unspoken assumption in historical theory that there is a trade-off between language or narrative, on the one hand, and experience or presence, on the other. Both critics and proponents of historical experience seem to presuppose that this is indeed the case. I argue that this is not necessarily true, and I analyze how the opposition between language and experience in historical theory can be overcome. More specifically, I identify the necessary conditions for a philosophy of language that can be the basis for this. Second, I will also suggest and present one specific instance of such a solution. I argue that the existential philosophies of language of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas can be exactly the kind of theory we need. For Buber and Levinas, language is not a means for accessing reality, but rather a medium of encounters between human beings. I present Levinas's and Buber's arguments, discuss how their views could be applied to the writing of history, and assess what the resulting picture of the writing of history could look like.

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Anton Froeyman
University of Ghent

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