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The Middle Ages and the Holocaust

Response: Ethics and the Voices of the Past—Fred Evans

Department of Philosophy, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA

Abstract

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 What is the ethical basis for why and how we should hear the voices of the past? I argue that it involves our ontological status as ‘voices’ or dialogic creatures and the ancient Greek but recently revived idea of parrhesia, courageous speaking and hearing. To support this claim in the context of ‘postmedieval’ thought, I utilize Finke and Shichtman’s King Arthur and the Myth of History to show how their idea that facts are the products of ‘networks of alliances of people and things’ points to the broader notion that society and history are what I call a ‘multivoiced body.’ The affirmation of any one of these voices is the valorization of the rest and the parrhesiatic hearing of past voices in writing history. The resulting ethico-political relation includes resisting ‘oracles’ such as the ‘institutionalized hypermasculine militarism’ that Finke and Shichtman think underlies medieval and modern ‘paranoid histories’ of King Arthur.

Article

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 When we read a manuscript, look at a monument, or engage other signs of history, we experience them as always having more to tell us. We can therefore call them ‘voices’ even if their original enunciators are no longer here directly to add to what they have said. In addition to the needs of memory and history, we might have an ethical and political and therefore much stronger bond with these muted voices. I want to suggest the nature of this ethico-political connection and what it implies for how we should hear and respond to these voices, for why and how we should practice in regard to them what the ancient Greeks called parrhesia, ‘courageous hearing and speaking.’[1]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Because our immediate concern is history, I will seek a basis for this political-ethical principle that is inherent in the interaction between the voices of the past and those of the present rather than one that transcends and dictates to them from above. The immanency of this basis for the political-ethical principle will also help us to answer a related question: why do (and not just ‘should’) we feel a connection with the voices embedded in history and often desire to hear them? Why do we frequently want to explore the pasts of other groups as well as our own and tend to experience this anterior setting as something shared by all of us from the beginning?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 To help answer these questions and relate them directly to medieval and modern history, I will look for support in Finke and Shichtman’s King Arthur and the Myth of History (2004) and refer to an essay by them as well as the other pieces included in this volume of postmedieval. More specifically, I will show how Finke and Shichtman’s idea that facts are the products of ‘networks of alliances of people and things’ points to the broader notion that society and history form what I call a ‘dialogic’ or ‘multivoiced body’ (Evans, 2008).Our participation in this body helps explain our attachment to the past and the affirmation of any one of these voices is the valorization of the rest and the parrhesiatic hearing of past voices. This valorization will provide the basis for the political-ethical principle we are seeking and for resisting nihilistic voices or ‘oracles’ that would inhibit fecund interaction with the voices of the past and the present. We will pay particular attention to the oracle that Finke and Shichtman call ‘institutionalized hypermasculine militarism, ’ which, they argue, underlies medieval and modern ‘paranoid histories’ concerning King Arthur and also Holocaust denial. The full statement of the ethico-political principle at which we will arrive is compatible with the poststructural position that is favored by Finke and Shichtman and many others. This ethico-political principle avoids pernicious forms of relativism and affirms at once three political virtues: solidarity (a unity composed of rather than imposed on difference), heterogeneity, and fecundity (the creation of new voices and the metamorphosis of society). 

The Primacy of Voices: Finke and Shichtman on King Arthur and History as Myth

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 There are many advantages to using voice as the primary way of speaking about society and history. Before stating the most important of these we need to clarify the meaning of voice. It has three main dimensions. The first is simply that we are the enunciators of the voices of society: without our bodies voices would not exist. The second dimension is the discourse that each voice expresses. To indicate the significance of discourse, we can note that all historians are inseparable from the social discourse that defines them as scholars of the past. For example, Finke and Shichtman present William of Malmesbury as speaking in the voice of chroniclers from the medieval period. This requires that he conforms to the rules constituting the discourse that gives him this socially recognized identity. Although the idea of acceptable scholarship for William’s period differs greatly from those guiding today’s historiography, Finke and Shichtman point out that William uses the prologues of the five books of his Gesta Regum Anglorum (Chronicles of the Kings of England, 1125) to assure his readers that he has gathered evidence based on only the most credible authors and his own firsthand accounts. William also criticizes the historians of his period who he feels have not exercised such careful scholarship, noting how they have let the political positions of their patrons influence what they have written (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 22–23).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Finke and Shichtman go on to show how these scholarly assurances, albeit differently nuanced according to time and place, are also promulgated by a number of other historians. Some of the most important of these are Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (1138), the translators (and transformers) of Geoffrey’s book, Wace (Roman de Brut, 1155) and Layamon (Brut, 1190–1225), and even some modern ‘pseudohistorians’ we will discuss later. Modifying Foucault a bit, we can say historians are established as such by the rules of the discursive formation that constitutes the ‘historian function’ for their period in time. If they do not conform to these rules, they are not regarded or respected as historians. More generally, the discursive formations that we enunciate and occupy in our various social roles determine our identity as well as that of the persons and objects with which we are concerned. They also specify what counts as relevant or irrelevant and the meanings of ‘truth,’ ‘good,’ and other values implicitly or explicitly stipulated by these discourses as obligatory or celebratory. Because these discursive formations usually precede us, shoes waiting to be filled, they are anonymous though we modulate them in more personal ways. If our bodies produce voices, the voices largely define us through the discourses they express and we enunciate.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 If we left ‘voice’ at that, as something we enunciate and that expresses a discourse, it would not be a voice – only words articulated by the appropriate biological or artificial apparatus. We get to voices and their third dimension when we recognize that discourses in actual life are intrinsically responsive, always addressing or replying to other ones.[2]Discourses are therefore the expressive component of the Nietzschean ‘value-creating powers’ (Nietzsche, 1967, 76–79) or Bakhtinian ‘social languages’ that we and also Bakhtin (Bakhtin, 1981, 291) are calling ‘voices.’ The idea of their responsiveness is built into these voices by definition but is also supported phenomenologically. We wake up in the morning already talking to ourselves or to real or imaginary others. This loquacity presses onward in our thoughts and conversations until we sleep, often converted into our dreams. We may think that we initiate and end these dialogues, but it is equally true that they make us their accomplices and carry us along in our exchanges with the other participants in the dialogue. If we end one dialogue, it’s only to the degree that we find ourselves in another. We are these voices, but they are also more than us, throwing us ahead of ourselves into the ongoing exchanges that claim us as participants—we are therefore always more than what we know, perceive, or act out at any given moment. We are, that is, dialogic creatures, and society is the ongoing interplay among the many and heterogeneous voices that constitute it. Indeed, this interplay simultaneously holds together and separates its participants. In other words, voices necessarily constitute and participate in the social formation that we can call a dialogic or multivoiced body.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Despite the deterministic sound of this relation that we bear to the voices we enunciate, we are ‘elliptically’ rather than strictly identical to them. This leaves us room, beyond the linguistic limitation of the sharp distinction between active and passive voice in English and most other languages, to articulate how we play a role in the ‘destiny’ (participation in the interplay among voices) that otherwise shapes our fortunes. We can speak of how we become more fully our initial ‘lead voice,’ or, alternatively, how we also sometimes ‘find ourselves giving over to,’ ‘sliding into,’ one of the other voices resounding in our own and thus become other than we were. To ‘choose’ to be this or that is only the capstone of these underlying processes, neither fully anonymous nor completely personal, that determine who we are (Evans, 2008, 154–56).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 We can now state some of the advantages this concept gives us over approaches to society and history that see voices only as epiphenomena. Finke and Shichtman indirectly indicate the first of these benefits when they say that history is a ‘narrative structure,’ one that ‘develops as a means of understanding who is one of us and who is the “other,” who is in and who is out’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 8). In other words, the histories we write have a political aspect, deciding which voices get heard and which do not. Using voice as the fundamental unit of society and history therefore highlights this aspect of historical narratives.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Besides this first advantage, voice is also flexible: we can speak of the voices of the gods or of nature, of culture or a nation, of you or me. The elasticity of voice gives it the same scope as the term ‘identity,’ but is active rather than passive: it refers to our expressiveness, for example, the particular political, artistic, and everyday communicative practices of ethnic, religious, and other groups, rather than to the color, economic status, gender, and similarly static characteristics attributed to us by stereotypic social labels and the alienating discourses in which they are often embedded. Mentioning this expressiveness brings us to the third advantage of privileging voice, its specificity: the infrastructure of a voice is the discourse with which it is associated. We can identify the logic or rules of a discourse and therefore at least partially understand it as well as refer to it with some clarity in histories and other modes of communication. However, a voice can never be reduced to, is always in excess of, any of the utterances it permits and our stipulations of their meanings: it bequeaths its discourse with an indefinite number of nuances on a theme, including ones that diverge from what we would have assumed to be the idiom’s core meaning (a ‘line of infinite variation’ in the language of Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 94–95). Along with these three advantages, there is still the major one we are pursuing for voice: its status as the basis for an ethico-political principle that answers the question about why and how we should hear other voices, especially those of history, those which cannot answer us back in the same way that we address them.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 As a further step toward determining this principle, we can attend to the relation between voices and the subject matter they take up in their dialogic exchanges with one another. Here again Finke and Shichtman are helpful. They amplify their earlier claim that history necessarily has a narrative structure by specifying that the object of historical research cannot be separated from the narratives within which we enclose them. But the two historians are not linguistic idealists: they add that narratives and facts exist together, ‘playing off one another,’ that ‘narrative will always exist in tension with the “facts”’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004,12; see also 10, 11, 15, 218). Things are only ever present to us within a discourse, a penumbra of words, yet they often interrupt this semiotic medium. We are therefore continually revising what we say about things and the intimations of the past, inventing the new poems, historical narratives, and scientific tracts that they force upon or inspire in us. This ‘tension’ between the two strata is creative until we close it down because of deadlines or dogma. Deleuze and Guattari are prescient in this regard when they speak of a ‘reciprocal presupposition’ between expression and content, each of these two forms interrupting or extending the other within the larger context or ‘event’ that links them together at that moment (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 66).

Contesting Voices: Arthurian Histories and ‘Networks of Alliances’

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Finke and Shichtman also capture the broader, agonistic milieu in which discourse stands in creative tension with expressive facts or ‘quasi-voices,’ that is, voices whose original enunciators cannot (things) or can no longer (the dead) revise their discourses. Following Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, they declare that facts are the products of ‘networks of alliances of people and things’:

Every fact is held together by a specific network of alliances of people (eyewitnesses, historical actors, scholars, readers, teachers, students) and of things (books, manuscripts, articles, archives, photographs, letters, diaries, buildings, artifacts). When the network becomes so strong that it would be too costly for any one individual or even a group of individuals to stand against it, the network itself can be erased and the fact stands alone; it ‘speaks for itself,’ though in fact it is this tightly woven network of alliances that speaks for it (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 219).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Finke and Shichtman add that debates over these ‘facts’ arise only when a new network of people and things challenge the established alliance. If this new group is able to acquire ‘more and better allies’ and to isolate ‘dissenters,’ if they make the professional or cultural price too high for members of the old alliance to continue contesting them over their common subject matter, then a new fact emerges, replacing the previous one, its brilliance at least temporarily blinding us to its dialogic history (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 219–220). Thus both the subject matter and the contesting narratives contribute to the always presumptive facts. More generally, the participating voices create these facts by transforming the surrounding world into the preliminary subject matter of their debates. In turn, the world keeps interrupting the discourses within which we try to enclose it. Recorded history consists in the fits and starts of this extended dialogic event. This interruptive power of things will also play a role in explaining why the production of facts by narratives does not imply a pernicious form of historical relativism.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 The main example of a historical fact that Finke and Shichtman interrogate in their book is ‘King Arthur.’ This interrogation clarifies further the nature of the contest within and between networks of alliances, within and between constellations of interacting voices. In particular, it reveals that the discourse of historians qua historians is always subordinated to another of their voices and its discourse. This other voice is power. Thus Finke and Shichtman state that histories are ‘agitated states of ideological conflict in which various factions contend to define what constitutes a legitimate exercise of power, which acts of violence will be sanctioned and which condemned. Arthurian histories are, first and foremost, about power’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 19). They note that some of these histories were used by the Celts to contest the power of the Saxons, Normans, and other conquerors. But they concentrate their attention on the ways in which such histories were employed to ‘smooth over the ideological conflicts created by the Norman colonization of England and the uneasy and unequal cohabitation of three distinct cultures – Norman, Saxon, and Celt’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 38). This leveling was not done in the name of a humanitarian desire for peace but rather ‘to legitimate particular forms of political authority and cultural imperialism’ that were dominant in medieval Britain (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 3).

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Finke and Shichtman substantiate this claim by showing how William and Geoffrey, Wace and Layamon, and other historians writing in that period subordinated their discourse and its truth-telling aims to ideological goals, to the voices of the dominant power.[3] These medieval historians did so by using the supposed fact of Arthur’s rule and glorious deeds to fabricate a line of royal succession from him to the current kings and nobles. They thereby legitimated the royal power of their patrons. This is most clear in the case of Geoffrey and his Historia Regum Britanniae. He attempts to accomplish partisan goals by fabricating the ‘illusion of a more or less unbroken line of succession that culminates in the emergence of [Celtic war chief] Arthur out of the social chaos of the Saxon invasions.’ This invention feeds ‘nostalgia for an originary wholeness, a past from which Geoffrey’s patrons could legitimate their own rule . . . by identifying themselves with British rather than Norman or Saxon kings’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 37–38; see also 54). Moreover, the resulting ‘naturalization’ of ‘Norman rule and centralization’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 51) was the product of an ‘anxiety’ shared by Geoffrey and his patrons over the ethnic and cultural difference of the Celtic, Saxon, and Norman groups occupying the same terrain and history of struggle against one another (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 38).

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Finke and Shichtman place these Arthurian historians and their debates into the darker and more historically encompassing context of what they call ‘institutionalized hyermasculine militarism’ and its relation to antisemitism and the later Holocaust. Before discussing this context, we can use what we have already drawn from Finke and Shichtman to elucidate further the notion of voices. Their depiction of the competing networks of voices around the historical and most likely mythical figure of King Arthur goes beyond what we noted earlier about the interplay that simultaneously separates and holds together the voices of society, including the participants in the ‘networks of alliances of people and things’ pertinent to historical debates. In particular, these voices share the sort of ‘diacritical’ relations highlighted in Ferdinand Saussure’s structuralist linguistic theory (Saussure, 1986, 119–120): each is established as what it is through its differences from the others, just as ‘male’ cannot be defined without reference to ‘female’ and vice versa. Each voice bears a trace of the others. Therefore, and most importantly, each is part of the identity and at the same time the other or alter ego of the rest.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 We can think of these diacritically related voices as the ‘horizontal axis’ of society. But the dialogic interplay among them intrinsically converts that axis into the ‘vertical’ or historical axis of the social body. Like Nietzsche’s ‘conversing and controverting gods’ (Nietzsche, 1968, 309) and the ‘networks of alliances’ among historians, these voices contest each other for audibility in the arena they occupy. Even when the King Arthur figure of resistance is negated by the interpretation or ‘use’ of him to sanctify established power, these two historical voices are marked by their rejection of each other. In the current volume, Heather Blurton illustrates this sort of contestation in her treatment of the competing interpretations and definitional genesis of the term ‘holocaust’ in medieval history. This portrayal includes her own etymologically informed jousting with Giorgio Agamben’s hermeneutical historiography as well as her support of a deconstructive approach to antisemitism in opposition to the trans-historical or ‘seeming timelessness’ of antisemitism ‘in the Christian West.’ Even when two interlocutors enunciate the same voice, or a dialogic contest concerns only two distinct viewpoints, the participants nevertheless pay, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s insightful words, a ‘side-ward glance’ to the other discursive forces that make up the implicit background of the current exchanges (Bakhtin, 1984, 196; Evans, 2008, 173–75, 188–190). At the limit of saliency, each voice cites all the rest.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The mutual citation of the voices of society provides the concrete basis for the ethico-political principle we have been seeking. The shared but agonistic identity of these voices – each a part of the identity of the others, each a dialogic hybrid—means that the affirmation of one’s own voice is immediately the valorization of all the others resounding in it. But because each is at the same time the other of the rest, this valorization includes their difference from each other and therefore also avows at once the solidarity and the heterogeneity of the social body. Concretely, this affirmation implies the parrhesia introduced earlier—that each voice must speak courageously to the others, speak its ‘own mind’ whatever the risks, and each must hear the others with the same courage, that is, open its discourse to possible revision in light of what the others say rather than merely registering or dismissing their message.[4] To hear or speak to another is to hear or speak to oneself—but always as different. For the same reason, the voices of the past intrinsically attract us, call upon us to hear them, and thus explain the basic connection we find ourselves to have to our past and the pasts of others—to the one past (but also our present and future), the multivoiced body, that we all share but vocalize differently.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Before explaining what can and often does break this substantial and ethical bond with the voices of the past as well as our interaction with those of the present, we must acknowledge a third ethico-political virtue besides solidarity and heterogeneity. This new virtue is ‘fecundity,’ that is, the creation of new voices brought about by the creative interplay among the others. The interchange between the voice that portrays King Arthur as resisting autocracy and the voice, such as Geoffrey’s, that characterizes the Celtic war chief as the historical source of the current centralized power can serendipitously give rise to a new voice – to one that is neither the anarchy of the first nor the despotism of the second. But the new voice, whatever the intentions of its enunciators, is never a closed synthesis that silences the originating voices: these unwitting progenitors live on in the new voice, contesting each other and their progeny, a voice often torn between the two tendencies that mark its birth. We will have a clearer example of what such a new voice might be when we focus critically on Finke and Shichtman’s poststructuralism. For now, however, we can note that the diacritical relation of the voices of the social body means that the emergence of each new voice produces an immediate change in all the rest, just as a new gender would change the meaning of ‘male’ and ‘female’ or a new color would transform the significance of the terms for the other hues in the same spectrum. Put more profoundly, this creation of new discourses means that the very being of the social body is its continuous metamorphosis, that it is the same body but always as different.

Oracles and The Darker Side of History

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 This multivoiced body with its three political virtues, vertical and horizontal axes, and constant metamorphosis always carries the inherent potential and frequent actuality of being at war with itself. This darker side of the creative interplay of voices is partially captured by what Finke and Shichtman say is a theme shared by many of the earlier and later Arthur historians. Specifically, they feel that the legend of King Arthur operates on two levels at once. On the surface, the legend portrays ‘the ideal of a chivalrous knight who pledged himself to honor, loyalty, and brotherhood.’ This ideal often includes a ‘quest’ to liberate the ‘Holy Grail.’ But at the second level the legend expresses, ‘in all the imaginings of the knight,’ a ‘fascist desire,’ an ‘unsavory kinship between the armored warriors of medieval Europe—even the romanticized armored warriors of King Arthur’s Court—and the armored divisions of Nazi blitzkrieg’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 188; see also 192). Indeed, Finke and Shichtman think the earlier and modern Arthurian historians suggest a ‘longing’ for a ‘past structured by institutionalized hypermasculine militarism’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 220, my italics; see also 194 and Finke and Shichtman, 2014, passim). The two authors also point out that persecution of Jews and portrayals of them worshiping the Devil, crucifying Jesus, or murdering Christian babies for their blood were part of medieval literature and its political leadership’s militarism just as they are in the fascism of the 20th century (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 196–97).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 In their construction of this theme, Finke and Shichtman provide a detailed examination of Trevor Ravenscroft’s Spear of Destiny: The Occult Power Behind the Spear which Pierced the Side of Christ (1973), Jean-Michel Angebert’s The Occult and the Third Reich: The Mystical Origins of Nazism and the Search for the Holy Grail (1974), and a number of other similar histories. They refer to these writings as ‘paranoid history,’ ‘higher paranoid scholarship’ or ‘conspiracy theory,’ and ‘psychomachia’ or history viewed as ‘an ongoing battle between forces of darkness and light’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 204). More specifically, the motives embodied in these histories are modified versions of the ones behind the writings of Geoffrey and the other writers of the medieval period (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 192). Thus Finke and Shichtman hold that the books by Ravenscroft and Angebert ‘function for twentieth-century readers much the same way Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae served the needs of its twelfth-century audience, supplying a myth of origin that glosses over twentieth-century anxieties about violence and political crisis’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 198; see also 192). Because these particular medieval and modern historians subordinate their writings to the purpose of constructing myths of origin and paranoia, converting earlier days into a ‘useable past,’ Finke and Shichtman refer to both groups as ‘pseudohistorians’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 203, 220). They nonetheless feel that ‘pseudohistories can, and should, be read as historical documents that enable the historiographer to explore the social and political agendas of the cultures that produced them’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 215; see also 235n2). In other words, these extreme examples of the ideological use of the past can operate analogously to the phenomenological epoché or Nietzschean and Foucauldian genealogical critiques: they make it easier to expose and then evaluate voices expressed tacitly in the narrative dimension of more objective appearing historical writings.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The pseudohistories of Ravenscroft and Angebert are a mix of factual façade and a ‘ludicrous’ world-wide conspiracy theory that appeals to the supposed veracities of ‘occult faculties’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 200–203) and culminates in a ‘double phantasy.’ In the first phantasy, Ravenscroft and Angebert use the suppositions of Nazi racial science ‘to make Arthurian history relevant to the twentieth century.’ In the second, they transform the medieval British myth of King Arthur into a world-wide genealogy that makes the idea of white ‘racial destiny’ the telos of history and converts their idea of an ongoing struggle between ‘the forces of darkness and light’ into a historical cause célèbre (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 206). This second phantasy is also the ‘attempt to make the incomprehensible, the horrific excesses of National Socialism’ part of a coherent and more acceptable narrative by condemning Hitler and Nazism as a misanthropic version of what should have been a desire and redemptive attempt to achieve the rebirth of ‘a chivalrous past’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 206–207; 212). The ‘totalizing of human history’ that is the hallmark of this use of the past also suggests that the Holocaust and World War II are ‘diversions’ from the ‘“real” conflict’ or ‘psychomachian confrontation’ between ‘Nazi black magic’ and the ‘white magic’ that Ravenscroft and Angebert promote (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 205). As part of this illusory relief from the trauma of the Holocaust and World War II, Ravenscroft and Angebert also transform the hypermasculine aggression of militarism into a spiritual version whose ‘knights’ are now professors and politicians instead of Himmler, Hitler, and their armies (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 209). This transfiguration of historical materials is also illustrated in Richard Cole’s essay for the current volume: he argues that the individualistic medieval Norsemen’s depiction of Jews as a cooperative ‘massed body’ is reinscribed as a much more insidious characterization during the centuries-later Holocaust, ‘“The Jews,” plotting as one, acting as one, eventually to be eliminated as one’ (Cole, 2014; author’s emphasis).

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 In another essay in the current volume, Daniel Wollenberg argues that the manifesto by Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, is also an example of ‘paranoid history.’ Like Ravenscroft’s and Angebert’s ‘higher paranoid scholarship,’ Breivik’s manifesto expresses the conviction that European and other sources are trying to hide the truth of Europe’s supremacy and its centuries-long battle against inferior but destructive civilizations. The manifesto also shares Ravenscroft’s and Angebert’s mission of psychomachian redemption and their fear and disdain of groups that are imagined as unallied with traditional European culture.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 We can link these three examples of paranoid history with the darker side or ‘unconscious’ of the social body. There is always anxiety over the possibility of being overwhelmed by the many voices resounding in society. But this anxiety is ‘low-grade,’ even a creative tension, unless it is exacerbated by an invasion, plague, or some other event that threatens the reproduction of the group or individual. In the case of ‘paranoid historians,’ we can conjecture that threats from the outside increased this endogenous anxiety: the ethnic conflict among the Celts, Saxons, and Normans in medieval Britain; fear of economic catastrophe in the Weimar Republic; and hatred or suspicion of Muslims by Breivik and other adherents to the ‘clash of civilization’ thesis (cf. Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 220, and 2014). In order to deal with this fear and hatred, these societies and individuals allowed one of their voices to be raised to the level of what I call an ‘oracle,’ that is, ‘the one true God,’ the ‘pure race,’ ‘capitalism,’ ‘hypermasculine militarism,’ or any other discourse that latently or manifestly asserts its superiority and non-revisability. Once an oracle achieves ascendancy and inculcates a ‘pure’ identity in the population, the fear of multiculturalism and other forms of difference increases even more and society begins a downward spiral that can culminate in the mutilation of live or dead bodies, mass rape, and other forms of inexplicable violence.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 When one of these oracles is dominant, it diminishes the creative interplay among the voices of society and deprecates the idea of simultaneously affirming the three ethico-political virtues of solidarity (a unity composed of rather than imposed on difference), heterogeneity, and fecundity (the creation of new voices and social metamorphosis). But there is still a trace of a counter-memory, if for no other reason than that the oracle must denigrate and therefore maintain some other voices in order to bolster its own status. The article by Mitchell Hart in the current volume presents an example of a counter-memory at play in German scholarship during the National Socialist period. Even Nazi legal scholars felt obliged to use extensive footnotes, documents, and other scholarly accoutrements in the midst of their attempts to make German medieval law a support for antisemitic jurisprudence. But the Nazi resort to a scholarly treatment of law allowed Jewish historians such as Guido Kisch to find in that same material a ‘genuine’ image of the medieval legal framework—one treating Jews justly—that countered the contrived, antisemitic image sponsored by the German Reich.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 To the degree that the hypermasculine militarism hidden in the Arthurian pseudohistories is potentially dominant in society and historically oriented writings today, Finke and Shichtman’s self-identified poststructuralist voice, particularly its method of genealogical critique, can serve as the counter-memory for exposing and resisting that oracle. They hold that this double process also includes revealing ‘the ideology that shapes [the historical pretense of Holocaust denial], an ideology informed by hatred and fear’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 219, 220; see also 219). They further argue that such revelations and a poststructuralist approach to history might help develop a network of scholars around the ‘fact’ of the Holocaust. This collectivity would take extra pains to prevent the future ascendancy of a network of Holocaust deniers and the hypermasculine militarism associated with it (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 220).

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Although Finke and Shichtman do not comment systematically in their book and article on the standard charge of relativism, it can be warded off by two factors. We noted earlier that things referred to ‘factually’ can interrupt the discourses that enclose them. That is part of the reason why even a natural formation can inspire revision after revision in scientific writings as well as poetry (Evans, 2010). So can an event such as the Holocaust. The historical record and witness accounts concerning it can and do interrupt the discourse put forth by its ideologically motivated deniers. Within a given historical period, moreover, and relative to the group of ‘networks of alliances’ debating the Holocaust’s existence in that epoch, there is no a priori reason for saying that one network cannot present a claim that is more compelling than the claims favored by the other networks. At this particular time, therefore, we can say that the persuasiveness of the evidence for the existence of the Holocaust makes its denial seem absurd for as far into the future as we can imagine. This veracity is abetted further when we critically consider the particular ideological motivations and allegiances of those who deny the Holocaust. We may forever debate its full meaning, the circumstances surrounding it, and the appropriateness of the uses made of it, but the evidence for the Holocaust interrupts any assertions that would negate its existence.

Ethics and the Voices of History

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 We can take Finke and Shichtman’s poststructuralist history as the ethico-political counter-memory to the pseudo-historical oracle of racial and/or cultural superiority. But if challenged (and we always are), we need a principled basis for our prerogative no matter how obvious its truth might seem to many of us. Our description of society as a multivoiced body suggests such a basis. Because each voice is part of the identity (and the other) of the rest, the enunciation of our own voice is an immediate affirmation of all the other voices as well as our own. As we saw earlier, it is also the valorization of the alterity of the other voices, of their heterogeneity, as well as of the fecundity produced through the dialogic interaction among them—in short, it is an affirmation of the three political virtues we have described. Moreover, this valorization is a celebration of the parrhesiatic speaking to and hearing of other voices that is the concrete meaning of society as a dialogic body. It further implies that the ethico-political principle of this body also prescribes resistance to oracles, to the nihilistic voices that out of a fear and hatred of the source of their and our existence would negate the creative interplay among voices and the metamorphoses of society it brings about. The ultimate source of these ethico-political principles and resistance to oracles is Nietzsche’s idea of amor fati (Nietzsche, 1967, 258). In our case, this love of fate is the immanent affirmation as opposed to nihilistic condemnation of ourselves as participants in society’s multivoiced body.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The idea of society and history as a multivoiced body is itself a hybrid voice. It combines the modernist emphasis upon unity and the postmodernist or postructuralist penchant for heterogeneity and fecundity. It joins Finke and Shichtman’s resistance to the nihilistic unity of institutionalized hypermasculine militarism and other forms of fascism. But it goes beyond critique and perhaps Finke and Shichtman in affirming a non-homogenizing unity, a solidarity composed of and generated by—rather than imposed on—the heterogeneous and fecund voices of society and history. Nevertheless, this hybrid idea of the social body is always contested by the two voices—modernism and postmodernism—whose interaction produced it. It must therefore resist its tendency toward a homogenizing unity, on the one hand, and toward a mere plurality or a love of the new at whatever cost, on the other, and do so in the name of restoring the creative tension between these two voices and continuing the affirmation of itself as a unity composed of and generated by its diverse voices. In other words, this idea of the multivoiced body, like the actual body it celebrates, is not a final or static synthesis; it is a dialogic hybrid that continually contests the voices that gave birth to it and that continue to resound within it. Moreover, its concrete meaning as parrhesia, its intrinsic openness to hearing other voices, functions as a continual lure to revised versions of itself: its enunciators can therefore never legitimately allow it to become an oracle.[5]

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 If this affirmation means that hearing the voices of history is an ethico-political principle—that the autochthonous avowal of our own voice is simultaneously that of all the other voices resounding within our own, all the voices that have been or will be – what does this mean concretely for the ethical way of hearing the voices of history? Two initial clues are provided by Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on the philosophy of history and the passages from Jean-Claude Milner’s interview on the ‘universal’ and the name of the ‘Jew’ that have been translated and extracted by Robert Kawashima for the postmedieval volume. In the shadow of the oracle of his time, Benjamin reminds us that ‘conformism,’ with its concommitment ‘danger of becoming a tool of the ruling class’ or any other oracle, is the great and typical fault in the way we hear the voices of the past (Benjamin, 1968, 225). Milner also warns us against this sort of conformity and its danger by reinscribing Jacques Lacan’s notion of the ‘all’ (the ‘Symbolic Order’) into the more immediately political ideas of ‘massive thinking’ and the oracles into which such cognition issues, the ‘facile universal’ (or ‘common-trait class’) (Milner, 2014, 2–3, 4, 5). Milner includes the notion of a ‘divisor word’ within this exclusive type of universal. He points out that Hitler used ‘Jew’ as such a term and vowed that Nazism’s final or ‘definitive solution’ would nullify the word’s divisiveness by eliminating the people it designated (Milner, 2014, 15, 16–17).

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 The meanings of these negative forces are clarified further when we note the antidotes for them that Benjamin and Milner prescribe. Benjamin urges historians to always attempt again ‘to wrest tradition away’ from the conformity that ‘is about to overpower it’ and to fan ‘the spark of hope in the past.’ This spark or ‘flitting image’ of the past and the redemption it indicates can be kept alive only if historians are ‘firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins’ (Benjamin, 1968, 255; his italics). Similarly, Milner opposes oracular thinking and the universal he condemns with his positive ideas of ‘detailed thinking’ and a ‘difficult universal’ (humanity as a ‘paradoxical class’ or Lacan’s ‘not-all,’ the ‘real’ and its accompanying notion, ‘objet-a’). Milner proposes that we eschew the massive thinking or ‘common measure’ that homogenizes the ‘details’ of the past and instead allow our detailed thinking to concentrate on their differences, their status as singularities, thereby replacing Nazism and other facile universals with difficult universals and dissolving ‘Jew’ and similar divisor words into the multiplicities they conceal (Milner, 2014, 4, 6).

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 In the terminology we have been using in this essay, Benjamin’s unexpected images or sparks of hope from the past and Milner’s detailed thinking are counter-memories that oppose oracles in the name of dialogic society and history. These parrhesiatic memories include our willingness to hear voices from the past, those of the ‘dead,’ with the openness and courage that allow them to rupture the oracular discourses—the conformity, facile universals, and divisor words—under whose authority we ourselves might too readily limit the force of these past words, artifacts, and events. The counter-memories invite the mute to continue speaking and encourage us to celebrate rather than merely respect the unity composed of difference we share with them. Hearing them in this parrhesiatic manner also implies courageous speaking and its provocative implication that historians must not just talk about the voices from the past but also to them. Such speech is accomplished in part by the novel idea of writing as if these specters are part of the audience we are addressing, spectators and specters that can respond to us either directly or indirectly.[6] Founded on the multivoiced body that we share with these past voices, this ethical and ‘postmedieval’ parrhesia can help us find the ‘failed’ voices of history’s ‘losers’ in the ‘gaps and silences, the discontinuities and “broken treads”’ of the yellowed pages of the winners and their obfuscation of the past as a ‘continuous and progressive history’ (Finke and Shichtman, 2004, 72, 73). We might then be able to hear dissenting voices, counter-memories, buried even in the margins of the hypermasculine militarism and antisemitism of those writing in the mythical name of King Arthur.

About the Author

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Fred Evans is Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator for the Center of Interpretive and Qualitative Research at Duquesne University. His most recent book is The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity (E-mail: evansf@duq.edu).

  • 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0
  • [1] Cf. Foucault, 2011, 11–13.
  • [2] Discourses can also include non-linguistic practices, for example, the organization of chairs in classrooms or the structure of economic exchanges.
  • [3] Of course, professional historiography and its otherwise important constraints might itself be a form of power—keeping the unprofessional or unorthodox professionals out (even if they can still be discriminated from the ‘paranoid histories’ of which Finke and Shichtman speak).
  • [4] Indeed, understanding and responding to others usually involves incorporating fragments of their discourse into our own and thereby changing or slanting however slightly the intent of what we want to say. For the linguistic detail of how these changes and others are intrinsically involved in every dialogic exchange, see Bakhtin, 1981, and Evans, 2008, 62–74, 190–197.
  • [5] There are two problems—‘excluding the excluders’ and ‘is the idea of a multivoiced body itself an oracle?’—indicated briefly in this paragraph and dealt by me extensively in Evans, (2008, 268–72) and Evans (2013). Later in this text, I make reference to Milner’s idea of a ‘divisor word.’ The idea of the multivoiced body might itself be thought of as such a word, but only in the positive sense that it divides itself from the oracles it opposes in the name of the continual and creative interplay among the voices of the community. That interplay ensures that the very idea of society as a multivoiced body, including its three political virtues, can never receive a final definition and logically interrupts any voice that would claim to occupy permanently its anti-throne. More generally, the idea of the multivoiced body occupies the place of the Lacanian ‘real’ or ‘not-all’ that Milner prizes and reinterprets as the ‘difficult universal’ (see below).
  • [6] I take the idea of an ‘implied audience’ and who it can include from the sphere of journalism and transfer it to history (see Jackson, Nielsen, and Hsu, 2011, 251–54).

Notes

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 1. Cf. Foucault, 2011, 11–13.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 2. Discourses can also include non-linguistic practices, for example, the organization of chairs in classrooms or the structure of economic exchanges.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 3. Of course, professional historiography and its otherwise important constraints might itself be a form of power—keeping the unprofessional or unorthodox professionals out (even if they can still be discriminated from the ‘paranoid histories’ of which Finke and Shichtman speak).

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 4. Indeed, understanding and responding to others usually involves incorporating fragments of their discourse into our own and thereby changing or slanting however slightly the intent of what we want to say. For the linguistic detail of how these changes and others are intrinsically involved in every dialogic exchange, see Bakhtin, 1981, and Evans, 2008, 62–74, 190–197.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 5. There are two problems—‘excluding the excluders’ and ‘is the idea of a multivoiced body itself an oracle?’—indicated briefly in this paragraph and dealt by me extensively in Evans, (2008, 268–72) and Evans (2013). Later in this text, I make reference to Milner’s idea of a ‘divisor word.’ The idea of the multivoiced body might itself be thought of as such a word, but only in the positive sense that it divides itself from the oracles it opposes in the name of the continual and creative interplay among the voices of the community. That interplay ensures that the very idea of society as a multivoiced body, including its three political virtues, can never receive a final definition and logically interrupts any voice that would claim to occupy permanently its anti-throne. More generally, the idea of the multivoiced body occupies the place of the Lacanian ‘real’ or ‘not-all’ that Milner prizes and reinterprets as the ‘difficult universal’ (see below).

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 6. I take the idea of an ‘implied audience’ and who it can include from the sphere of journalism and transfer it to history (see Jackson, Nielsen, and Hsu, 2011, 251–54).

References

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Aristotle. 1941. Politica, trans. B. Jowett. In The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. R. McKeon, 1127–1324. New York: Random House.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Bakhtin, M. 1984. Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics, trans. C. Emerson and M. Holguist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Bakhtin, M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination, trans. C. Emerson and M. Holguist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Benjamin, W. 1968. Theses on the Philosophy of History. In Illuminations, ed. H. Arendt, trans. H. Zohn, 253–264. New York: Schocken Books.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Blurton, H. , D. 2014. ‘The History of an Incorrect Term’: Agamben, Etymology, and the Medieval History of the Holocaust. In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 5(3).

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Cole, R. 2014. One of Several Jews? The Jewish Massed Body in Old Norse Literature. In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 5(3).

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus, trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis, MN:

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 University of Minnesota Press.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Evans, F. 2013. The Clamor of Voices: Neda, Barack, and Social Philosophy. Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy 17:158–177.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Evans, F. 2010. ‘Unnatural Participations’: Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, and Environmental Ethics, Philosophy Today 54: 42–52.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Evans, F. 2008, 2011. The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity. New York: Columbia University Press.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Finke, L and M. R. Shichtman. 2014. Exegetical History: Nazis at the Round Table. In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 5(3).

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Finke, L and M. R. Shichtman. 2004. King Arthur and the Myth of History. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Foucault, M. 2011. The Courage of Truth (The Government of Self and Others II), Lectures at the Collège de France: 1983–84), ed. F. Gros, trans. G. Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Foucault, M. 1998. ‘What is an Author?’ In The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, ­1954–1984, vol. II, ed. P. Rabinow, trans. J. V. Harari, 205–222. New York: The New Press.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Hart, M. 2014. ‘Modern and Genuine Medievalism’: Guido Kisch’s Romance with the German Middle Ages. In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 5(3).

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Jackson, J. D., G. M. Nielsen, and Y. Hsu. 2011. Mediated Society: A Critical Sociology of Media. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Milner, J-C. 2014. Remarks on the Name “Jew” and the Universal. Trans. Robert S. Kawashima. In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 5(3).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Nietzsche, F. 1967. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage Books.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Nietzsche, F. 1968. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. W. Kaufmann, 103–439. New York: The Viking Press.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Saussure, F. 1986. Course in General Linguistics, trans. R. Harris. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Wollenberg, D. 2014. Defending the West: Medievalism and Pan-Europeanism on the Far- Right.’ In ‘The Middle Ages and the Holocaust,’ ed. N. Caputo and H. Johnson, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 5(3).

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