Futures Past

Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time

REINHART KOSELLECK
Translated and with an Introduction by Keith Tribe
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kose12770
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  • Book Info
    Futures Past
    Book Description:

    Modernity in the late eighteenth century transformed all domains of European life -intellectual, industrial, and social. Not least affected was the experience of time itself: ever-accelerating change left people with briefer intervals of time in which to gather new experiences and adapt. In this provocative and erudite book Reinhart Koselleck, a distinguished philosopher of history, explores the concept of historical time by posing the question: what kind of experience is opened up by the emergence of modernity? Relying on an extraordinary array of witnesses and texts from politicians, philosophers, theologians, and poets to Renaissance paintings and the dreams of German citizens during the Third Reich, Koselleck shows that, with the advent of modernity, the past and the future became 'relocated' in relation to each other.The promises of modernity -freedom, progress, infinite human improvement -produced a world accelerating toward an unknown and unknowable future within which awaited the possibility of achieving utopian fulfillment. History, Koselleck asserts, emerged in this crucial moment as a new temporality providing distinctly new ways of assimilating experience. In the present context of globalization and its resulting crises, the modern world once again faces a crisis in aligning the experience of past and present. To realize that each present was once an imagined future may help us once again place ourselves within a temporality organized by human thought and humane ends as much as by the contingencies of uncontrolled events.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50204-7
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-xxii)
    Keith Tribe

    Reinhart Koselleck’s Vergangene Zukunft. Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten was published in 1979; translations of two essays from this collection were published in the English journal Economy and Society during the early 1980s,¹ and in 1985 MIT Press brought out a complete translation of the book under the title Futures Past.² Reviewers noted at the time the manner in which Koselleck played upon concepts of time and space in the construction of historical meaning. Moreover, his emphasis upon “conceptual history” struck a chord among scholars already familiar with the efforts of Quentin Skinner, John Pocock, and John Dunn to direct our...

  4. AUTHOR’S PREFACE
    (pp. 1-6)
    R. K. Bielefeld
  5. PART I ON THE RELATION OF PAST AND FUTURE IN MODERN HISTORY
    • 1 MODERNITY AND THE PLANES OF HISTORICITY
      (pp. 9-25)

      In 1528 Duke William IV of Bavaria ordered a series of historical paintings which were to be hung in his newly built summer house at the Royal Stud. Thematically Christian-Humanist, they depicted a series of biblical events, as well as a series of episodes from classical Antiquity. Most well known and justly celebrated of these paintings is Albrecht Altdorfer’s Alexanderschlacht

      Altdorfer reveals to us upon a canvas of one and a half square meters the cosmic panorama of a decisive battle of world-historical significance, the Battle of Issus, which in 333 B.C. opened the epoch of Hellenism, as we say...

    • 2 HISTORIA MAGISTRA VITAE: THE DISSOLUTION OF THE TOPOS INTO THE PERSPECTIVE OF A MODERNIZED HISTORICAL PROCESS
      (pp. 26-42)

      Friedrich von Raumer, known as the historiographer to the Hohenstaufen, reports the following episode from the year 1811, when he was still Hardenberg’s secretary:

      During counsel in Charlottenburg, Oelssen [section head in the Ministry of Finance] animatedly defended the preparation of a quantity of paper money so that debts could be paid. All argument to the contrary failing, I said with immense audacity (knowing my man): “But Privy Councillor, do you not remember that Thucydides tells of the evils that followed from the circulation of too much paper money in Athens?” This experience,” he concurred, “is certainly of great importance”...

    • 3 HISTORICAL CRITERIA OF THE MODERN CONCEPT OF REVOLUTION
      (pp. 43-57)

      There are few words so widely diffused and belonging so naturally to modern political vocabulary as the term “revolution.” It also belongs, of course, to those widely used forceful expressions whose lack of conceptual clarity is so marked that they can be defined as slogans. Quite clearly, the semantic content of “revolution” is not exhausted by such sloganistic usage and utility. Instead, the term “revolution” indicates upheaval or civil war as well as long-term change, events, and structures that reach deep into our daily life. Obviously, this sloganizing ubiquity and the occasional very concrete meaning of “revolution” are closely related....

    • 4 HISTORICAL PROGNOSIS IN LORENZ VON STEIN’S ESSAY ON THE PRUSSIAN CONSTITUTION
      (pp. 58-72)

      “It is possible to forecast the approaching future, but one would not wish to prophesy individual events.”¹ The truth of Stein’s statement, formulated in 1850, finds confirmation in his most important work. In terms of intellectual history, one might perceive in this pronouncement a secularized version of Christian prophets of doom whose lasting certainty always exceeded the accuracy or inappropriateness of individual short-term expectations. Stein’s declaration was, however, based on diligent sociohistorical and administrative studies and acquired its sense of immediacy from the historical circumstances in which it arose. Stein delivered prognoses because he had made the movement of modern...

  6. PART II THEORY AND METHOD OF THE HISTORICAL DETERMINATION OF TIME
    • 5 BEGRIFFSGESCHICHTE AND SOCIAL HISTORY
      (pp. 75-92)

      According to a well-known saying of Epictetus, it is not deeds that shock humanity, but the words describing them. ¹ Apart from the Stoic point that one should not allow oneself to be disturbed by words, the contrast between “pragmata” and “dogmata” has aspects other than those indicated by Epictetus’s moral dictum. It draws our attention to the autonomous power of words, without whose use human actions and passions could hardly be experienced, and certainly not made intelligible to others. This epigram stands in a long tradition concerned with the relation of word and thing, of the spiritual and the...

    • 6 HISTORY, HISTORIES, AND FORMAL TIME STRUCTURES
      (pp. 93-104)

      The dual ambiguity of the modern linguistic usage of Geschichte and Historie—both expressions denoting event and representation—raises questions that we shall here investigate further. These questions are both historical and systematic in nature. This characteristic meaning of history, such that it is at the same time knowledge of itself, can be seen as a general formulation of an anthropologically-given arc, linking and relating historical experience with knowledge of such experience. On the other hand, the convergence of both meanings is a historically specific occurrence which first occurred in the eighteenth century. It can be shown that the formation...

    • 7 REPRESENTATION, EVENT, AND STRUCTURE
      (pp. 105-114)

      Questions concerning represention—for historical description is also narration—involve epistemologically different temporal levels of historical movement. The degree to which history narrates when it describes involves at the epistemological level quite diverse temporal reaches of historical movement.¹ That a “history” pre-exists extra-linguistically not only sets limits to representational potential, but also requires that the historian pay close attention to the nature of source material. This itself contains very different indices of temporal orders. Seen from the historian’s point of view, therefore, the question can be reversed: we have here a diversity of temporal strata, each of which necessitates a...

    • 8 CHANCE AS MOTIVATIONAL TRACE IN HISTORICAL WRITING
      (pp. 115-127)

      Talking about chance in historiography is difficult, for while chance has its own history in the writing of history, it is a history yet to be written. “Chance” can be adequately clarified only if the entire conceptual structure of a historian making use of a “chance occurrence” is taken into account. For example, one could examine the counterconcept the chance sets free, or the general concept it qualifies. For instance, Raymond Aron begins his Introduction to the Philosophy of History with Cournot’s antithesis of “order” and “chance,” concluding that: “The historical fact is essentially irreducible to order: chance is the...

    • 9 PERSPECTIVE AND TEMPORALITY: A CONTRIBUTION TO THE HISTORIOGRAPHICAL EXPOSURE OF THE HISTORICAL WORLD
      (pp. 128-152)

      The historian’s pledge to seek and recount only what is true is an old one and by general consensus remains valid. On the other hand, the claim that it is only possible to discover the truth by adopting a definite position, or even through partisanship, is a product of modernity.

      To state that every historical statement is bound to a particular stand-point would today meet with hardly any objection. Who would wish to deny that history is viewed from different perspectives, and that change in history is accompanied by alterations in historical statements about this history? The ancient trinity of...

  7. PART III SEMANTIC REMARKS ON THE MUTATION OF HISTORICAL EXPERIENCE
    • 10 THE HISTORICAL-POLITICAL SEMANTICS OF ASYMMETRIC COUNTERCONCEPTS
      (pp. 155-191)

      Names for oneself and for others belong to the everyday life of men and women. They articulate the identity of a person and of that person’s relation to others. In this process there might be agreement on the use of such expressions, or each might use for his opposite a term different from that employed by the latter. It makes a difference whether mutually recognized names are spoken (e.g., Hans and Liese), or whether these are replaced by abusive nicknames. So, for instance, among relatives there is a difference between the use of “mother” and “son,” and “old bag” and...

    • 11 ON THE DISPOSABILITY OF HISTORY
      (pp. 192-204)

      Before dealing with the problem at hand, a story (Geschichte) must be told. In the year 1802, a morally zealous Briton, the Reverend John Chatwode Eustace, traveled through Italy. He sought, together with an aristocratic companion, to deepen his classical education at firsthand. Ten years later he published the results of his travels.

      The Reverend Mr. Eustace had found Italy to be a victim of the French Revolution, and was unsparing with learned quotations that should provide his readers with a historical attitude. To this end he offered them long-term perspectives. He cited Scipio who, seated on the ruins of...

    • 12 TERROR AND DREAM: METHODOLOGICAL REMARKS ON THE EXPERIENCE OF TIME DURING THE THIRD REICH
      (pp. 205-221)

      Si fingat, peccat in historiam; si non fingat, peccat in poesin. He who invents, violates the writing of history; he who does not, violates poetic art. With this seventeenth-century statement Alsted formulated a simple opposition that had been a topos for two thousand years.¹ The business of Historie was to address itself to actions and events, to res gestae, whereas poetry lived upon fiction. The criteria distinguishing history from poetics involved the modes of representation, which (if we might exaggerate somewhat) were intended to articulate either being or appearance. The intertwined manner in which the rhetorical relation of history and...

    • 13 “NEUZEIT”: REMARKS ON THE SEMANTICS OF MODERN CONCEPTS OF MOVEMENT
      (pp. 222-254)

      Historical events are not possible without linguistic activity; the experience gained from these events cannot be communicated except through language. However, neither events nor experiences are exhausted by their linguistic articulation. There are numerous extralinguistic factors that enter into every event, and there are levels of experience that escape linguistic determination. The majority of extralinguistic conditions for all occurrences (natural and material givens, institutions, and modes of conduct) remain dependent upon linguistic communication for their effectiveness. They are not, however, assimilated by it. The prelinguistic structure of action and the linguistic communication by means of which events take place are...

    • 14 “SPACE OF EXPERIENCE” AND “HORIZON OF EXPECTATION”: TWO HISTORICAL CATEGORIES
      (pp. 255-276)

      “Since it is so common to argue against hypothesis, one should sometime try to approach history without the aid of hypothesis. It is not possible to state that something is, without saying what it is. By just thinking of them one relates facts to concepts, and it is by no means a matter of indifference which concepts these might be.”¹ In these few sentences Friedrich Schlegel summarized, on the basis of the past century’s theoretical reflections, the nature of history, how it was to be recognized, and how it should be written. This historical process of enlightenment stands the discovery...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 277-311)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 313-317)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)