The Image of History

I have here in my notes, “History doesn’t spread like the plague, it rises like the sun.” In other words, the last entry on guilt and inheritance is wrong, since inheritance is a plague-like model of history. There are a few other equivalent things I’ve written in my notes:

1) We only reach awareness after it’s all over.
2) Life and death (or dying) are reversible.

The idea here is that both inheritance and guilt, which we experience as discrete moments, happen to us at once. Or, they are related like “fate” (or, less mysteriously, like law) in the sense that the specific form of guilt and of inheritance, or the path from guilt to bequeathal takes on a certain form molded by the “sun” of history. In other words, the young and the old should be thought of as the various figures of history, rather than the young being the cause of the old.

The idea is pretty simple, I might be over-complicating things a bit. The last essay on “the plague” is really still quite useful, but we simply have to keep in mind that things proceed in order, such as the order of guilt and inheritance, because they “fall into place”, they “precipitate” rather than because the former causes the latter.

 

The “image of history” is a paradoxical phrase, the image is immediate while history is not. But this is what I think of as the practical consequences of what we speak of above. Now, there’s long been the vague feeling, regarding the work of philosophy, that philosophers should be “metaphysicians” or “phenomeonologists” or even, as some have said, “engineers”. These words express a similar idea, the idea of the “creativity” of philosophy, perhaps in giving the image of history — in that, without philosophy, what we do or see or think is far too definite, but philosophy is that which, well, seems to give an alternative picture of what is going on. But these words are also insufficient in that it appears as though the image is an ends in itself — and this is related to the expression, “Philosophy is not here to help you!” This is, incidentally, the usual error in most book reports — the “reader response” error, the idea that the book is written for me, for my appreciation.

The image, then, is not the goal of philosophy, the goal is not to give the metaphysical image of an era. But rather, the image is always of guilt and inheritance, I am thinking of something like the shield of Achilles, the image of history is of the spread of the plague, from birth to death. And organizing this image, as Kurtz tells us, who, before his death, seemed to see the entirety of the world — is “the horror, the horror”, the dark sun of history.

 

Less mysteriously, our practical task is to attempt to unify bequeathal and guilt by thinking about the common heart that they share, and not as one is caused by the other. TBC

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