Hayden White

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Hayden White (July 12, 1928 - March 5, 2018) was an American historian and historiographer.

Quotes[edit]

  • Historians are concerned with events which can be assigned to specific timespace locations, events which are (or were) in principle observable or perceivable, whereas imaginative writers – poets, novelists, playwrights – are concerned with both these kinds of events and imagined, hypothetical, or invented ones.
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • Readers of histories and novels can hardly fail to be struck by their similarities. There are many histories that could pass for novels, and many novels that could pass for histories, considered in purely formal (or, I should say, formalist) terms. Viewed simply as verbal artifacts histories and novels are indistinguishable from one another. We cannot easily distinguish between them on formal grounds unless we approach them with specific preconceptions about the kinds of truths that each is supposed to deal in. But the aim of the writer of a novel must be the same as that of the writer of a history.
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • In fact, I would argue that these mythic modes are more easily identifiable in historiographical than they are in ‘literary’ texts. For historians usually work with much less linguistic(and therefore less poetic) self-consciousness than writers of fiction do. They tend to treat language as a transparent vehicle of representation that brings no cognitive baggage of its own into the discourse.
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • Now, I want to make clear that I am myself using these terms as metaphors for the different ways we construe fields or sets of phenomena in order to ‘work them up’ into possible objects of narrative representation and discursive analysis. Anyone who originally encodes the world in the mode of metaphor, will be included to decode it – that is, narratively ‘explicate’ and discursively analyze it – as a congeries of individualities.
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • This movement between alternative linguistic modes conceived as alternative descriptive protocols is, I would argue, a distinguishing feature of all the great classics of the ‘literature of fact.’
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • Like Kant before him, Darwin insists that the source of all error is semblance. Analogy, he says again and again, is always a ‘deceitful guide’ (see pp. 61, 66, 473). As against analogy, or as I would say merely metaphorical characterizations of the facts, Darwin wishes to make a case for the existence of real ‘affinities’ genealogically construed. The establishment of these affinities will permit him to postulate the linkage of all living things to all others by the ‘laws’ or ‘principles’ of genealogical descent, variation, and natural selection. These laws and principles are the formal elements in his mechanistic explanation of why creatures are arranged in families in a time series. But this explanation could not be offered as long as the data remained encoded in the linguistic modes of either metaphor or synecdoche, the modes of qualitative connection. As long as creatures are classified in terms of either semblance or essential unity, the realm of organic things must remain either a chaos of arbitrarily affirmed connectedness or a hierarchy of higher and lower forms. Science as Darwin understood it, however, cannot deal in the categories of the ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ any more than it can deal in the categories of the ‘normal’ and ‘monstrous.’ Everything must be entertained as what it manifestly seems to be. Nothing can be regarded as ‘surprising,’ any more than anything can be regarded as ‘miraculous.’
    • "The fictions of factual representation"
  • What is at issue here is not: What are the facts? but rather: How are the facts to be described in order to sanction one mode of explaining them rather than another? Some historians will insist that history cannot become a science until it finds the technical terminology adequate to the correct characterization of its objects of study, in the way that physics did in the calculus and chemistry did in the periodic tables. Such is the recommendation of Marxists, Positivists, Cliometricians, and so on. Others will continue to insist that the integrity of historiography depends on its use of ordinary language, its avoidance of jargon. These latter suppose that ordinary language is a safeguard against ideological deformations of the ‘facts.’ What they fail to recognize is that ordinary language itself has its own forms of terminological determinism, represented by the figures of speech without which discourse itself is impossible.
    • "The fictions of factual representation"

External links[edit]

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