Yowzers, two posts in a day! As promised in my last post, I’m planning on blogging a lot more frequently as I read stuff on my orals lists, so here’s the first of a new series of posts where I will make bitchy comments about things on my orals lists. My lists? They’re still shifting and squirming around. This post is on Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History (not to be confused with Lectures on the History of Philosophy), which is on my Po-Co/Globalization list, which I might call “Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Globalization with Chinese Characteristics.” But the first few pages of Hegel, which is all the prose I’ve managed to stomach thus far, has inspired me to name my mainly-Victorian-novels-I-need-to-have-read-but-haven’t list “Past and Present in Victorian Fiction.” It’s not all that catchy, and it probably means I need to read Carlyle, but I think it’ll do well to focus my readings, and work toward either of the two dissertation projects I’m currently deciding between.

P of H begins with a classic Hegelian two-step: two broad categories, Original History and Reflective History, followed by the Hegelian whammy, Philosophical History. I’m less interested in his quaint notion that the best kind of history is “the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially,” than in the ways he articulates the different possible relations between past and present in the first two categories.

Original History is quite straightforward: the direct record of the events of his (sic) present time: what we would call primary sources. I had trouble parsing the different sub-categories of Reflective History, hence my scribblings here.

  1. Sub-category #1 is Universal History, which is confusing since H. uses the phrase for Philosophical History as well–maybe the translator’s fault. A less misleading term would be Collective History, since it’s the “history of a people or a country, or of the world”? Even though it’s collective/universal, H. emphasizes the historian’s subjectivity:  “[I]t often happens that the individuality of tone which must characterize a writer belonging to a different culture, is not modified in accordance with the periods such a record must traverse. The spirit of the writer is quite other than that of the times of which he treats.”
  2. #2 is Pragmatical. Whereas UH places the emphasis on a transhistorical sweep biased towards the present, Pragmatic History seeks to revivify the past, to take “the occurence out of the category of the Past and make it virtually Present,” often for didactic purposes. H. is skeptical of the possibility, as expressed in a wonderfully bitchy passage:  “But what experience and history teach is this–that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone.”
  3. #3  is Critical History, or “History of History,” what we would now call historiography. This is the argument over correct interpretations of the past, which somehow leads to “anti-historical monstrosities” and “putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data,”  i.e. the present invading into the past again.
  4. #4 doesn’t really have a name. These are things like “History of Art, of Law, of Religion,” which announce their fragmentary character on the very face of it.” H. is more okay with these, since they lead to “general points of view” connecting the fragmentary domain to the whole shebang.

Not bad as a heuristic for thinking about the different ways a narrator relates to her story.

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