History: the broken narrative


The acceleration of history and the expansion of the present have the sudden and symmetrical effect of putting all the past at a distance. We no longer inhabit it, it no longer speaks to us, it no longer tells us history, it only appears to us in the form of interposed, mysterious traces, which we must question in order to better understand the secret of our identity. We have lost touch with the past because we have broken the thread of a narrative, the weft of which we are trying to reconstruct, in bits and pieces, at the cost of a documentary, archival, monumental, testimonial reconstruction, which makes 'memory' the current name of History.

To know the History of their past, men need narratives. This is what builds their social and national imagination. The ethnologist Benedict Anderson considers that "beyond the primordial villages where face-to-face encounters are the rule (and still...), there are only imagined communities". (1) , just as there are only imaginary companies.

In order to remember past events, societies invent a narrative, a narrative that helps them see where they come from, what underlies them and where they are going. The historian's narration of this narrative must follow rules. Since the end of the 19th century, historians have been warned about the literary ornaments and traps of romantic history into which Michelet fell. Some modern historians consider History as a narrative genre like any other. According to American "narrativists" such as Hayden White or French Paul Veyne (2) The story is no more or less real than the novel and is subject to the same type of analysis.

In the face of these theses - which, it is true, is only just followed by the scandal caused by the revisionist and negationist positions - the search for a middle way between reality and fiction asserts itself. It is expressed, in particular, in Michel de Certeau, Paul Ricœuror Krysztof Pomian (3) . For these authors, history is a discourse on reality, but it is also a narrative that uses the springs of fiction: for Ricœur, History puts the past 'in intrigue', it creates continuity between the discontinuous traces of this past, it stages fictitious actors such as the people, the classes, the nation, it uses metaphor, it plays on the times of conjugation, etc. For Ricœur, history is a narrative that is based on the past, but it is also a narrative that uses the springs of fiction. For its part, the novel, in order to reach its audience, must be plausible, to be "as if it were in the past" according to Ricoeur's formula, it seeks to create an "effect of reality" highlighted by Roland Barthes. "The story is almost fictitious when the quasi-presence of the events placed 'before the eyes' of the reader by an animated narrative supplants, by its intuitiveness, its vivacity, the elusive character of the past." (4)

Thus, every historical work confers a certain individuality on its subject: it assigns a beginning and an end to it, it draws a boundary around it, it eliminates everything that does not relate to it. Between the beginning and the end it creates transitions and a semblance of continuity in a material that is always irremediably incomplete. This conception leads Jacques Le Goff to write: "History cannot be a resurrection or a reconstitution of the real past, it is an 'arrangement' of it. » (5)

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● The narrative of the story is part of this national identification, forged on an essentially fictional model, which Anderson talks about. It also plays a major role, stressed by Paul Ricœur, in the perception of temporality. Plotting History is nothing other than a synthesis of historical events told in a temporal sense. Now, Paul Ricœur notes that this plotting of history, in the sense of a temporal relationship inscribed in a narrative, is, today, particularly problematic. Indeed, the models brought by the hyper-informational system, made up of events temporally linked to the immediate present and inscribed in a worldwide network, complicate the plotting through the historical narrative.

● The fundamental change in the perception of time, reduced to an absolute present, is fatally damaging to the historical narrative, for two main reasons. The first is the globalization of economic and hyper-informational systems. Events, fashions and cultures, which transcend national borders, appear to be less and less identifiable with an exclusively national destiny. Moreover, today's world is a complex system whose components are constantly interacting: an event occurring on the other side of the world will directly impact our society; an economic crisis in Asia will have systemic repercussions on European markets. It is therefore very difficult to organize a national "narrative" when events and their transmission are globalized.

● The second reason is the radical transformation we have observed in the nature of time. While the historical narrative seeks to reconstruct time, by placing events in a temporal logic, the present world seeks rather to destroy time and bring it back to an immediate instant, without past or future. The narrative proposes a genesis, a journey, and therefore an end, whereas the hyper-informational global system, established in a network, denies this narrative dimension.

There is no end in a network, there are only interconnections. A network has no sense of narrative. Narratives are produced according to the interconnections made by the members of the network, as they navigate from node to node, link to link, in a hypertextual rhetoric that we have already mentioned. The current hyper-informational system lacks a sense of national community. It brings together, in the face of an event, over a short period of time, often in a paroxysmal emotional intensity, heterogeneous individualities from heterogeneous cultures and national entities. The common good no longer has any meaning, even though it is the common good that underpins the historical narrative. Modern individuality is globalized, but contemporary societies are made up of mixed individualities. The two movements converge on a major difficulty of Western societies: the reference to a common past. (6) "The crossbreeding of societies calls for a challenge to the notion of a 'common past'. "The schemes for integrating foreign communities into the common national core come up against this problem, which is part of the void left by the impossibility of a common historical reference.

(1) Benedict ANDERSON, L'imaginaire national, La découverte, 1996
(2) Cf: Paul VEYNE, Comment on writing history, Seuil, 1996.
(3) Cf: Michel de CERTEAU, L'écriture de l'histoire, Gallimard, 1975); Paul RICŒUR, Temps et récit, Seuil, 1983-1985; Krysztof POMIAN, Sur l'Histoire, Gallimard, 1999.
(4) Paul RICŒUR, op.cit., Volume III.
(5) Jacques LE GOFF, Histoire et mémoire, Gallimard, 1988.
(6) Zaki LAÏDI, op.cit.


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