In several of his later works, Lotman deals with the problem of human agency and the role of chance in the specific domain of historical events. Against the backdrop of his theory of cultural explosions, the main point he makes is that “if we start from the premise that an historical event is always the result of one of many possible alternatives and that the same conditions do not always produce the same results... we shall see that the events which actually took place are surrounded by clusters of unrealised possibilities” (Lotman 2019, p. 193). Hence the irreversible nature of catastrophic and/or revolutionary events, whose actual outcomes are never predictable before they occur, partly because of the role played by chance in selecting one of the possibilities that were virtually condensed in the previous, pre-Big Bang stages of the explosion (while discarding the others), and partly because of the active role played by human agents in decision-making processes that shape those events. When historians talk about the past, however, much of this indeterminacy is lost. This is due to the retrospective view that they adopt when turning the time arrow from present documents to past events, with the result of strengthening the causal links between what came before and what really happened, as if there never were any alternatives. But how can history deal with the original indeterminacy of human events, without forsaking its inferential (and therefore necessarily a posteriori) methods? Lotman is very critical of historiography in general, and of the Annales school (founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre) in particular. And yet, curiously enough, the best example of a historical text capable of conjuring up counterfactual scenarios, while living up to its scientific-documentary standards, may be found in Marc Bloch’s first-person analysis of the French étrange défaite of 1940.

(2022). L'alternativa nella storia = Alternative history [journal article - articolo]. In LEXIA. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10446/234970

L'alternativa nella storia = Alternative history

Pisanty, Valentina
2022-01-01

Abstract

In several of his later works, Lotman deals with the problem of human agency and the role of chance in the specific domain of historical events. Against the backdrop of his theory of cultural explosions, the main point he makes is that “if we start from the premise that an historical event is always the result of one of many possible alternatives and that the same conditions do not always produce the same results... we shall see that the events which actually took place are surrounded by clusters of unrealised possibilities” (Lotman 2019, p. 193). Hence the irreversible nature of catastrophic and/or revolutionary events, whose actual outcomes are never predictable before they occur, partly because of the role played by chance in selecting one of the possibilities that were virtually condensed in the previous, pre-Big Bang stages of the explosion (while discarding the others), and partly because of the active role played by human agents in decision-making processes that shape those events. When historians talk about the past, however, much of this indeterminacy is lost. This is due to the retrospective view that they adopt when turning the time arrow from present documents to past events, with the result of strengthening the causal links between what came before and what really happened, as if there never were any alternatives. But how can history deal with the original indeterminacy of human events, without forsaking its inferential (and therefore necessarily a posteriori) methods? Lotman is very critical of historiography in general, and of the Annales school (founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre) in particular. And yet, curiously enough, the best example of a historical text capable of conjuring up counterfactual scenarios, while living up to its scientific-documentary standards, may be found in Marc Bloch’s first-person analysis of the French étrange défaite of 1940.
articolo
Pisanty, Valentina
(2022). L'alternativa nella storia = Alternative history [journal article - articolo]. In LEXIA. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10446/234970
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