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Arthur C . Danto NARRATION AND KNOWLEDGE If Rawdon Crawley had been then and there present, instead of being at the club nervously drinking claret, the pair might have gone down on their knees before the old spinster, avowed all, and have been forgiven in a twinkling. But that good chance was denied to the young couple, doubtless in order that this story might be written. . . . William Makepeace Thackery, Vanity Fair, chap. 16 This article seeks to identify certain structures which define, as it were, part of the phenomenology of historical consciousness and hence of historical existence, understood as existing in the consciousness that one is in history. Consciousness so structured contrasts of course with the sort of animal consciousness under which, in Nietzsche's phrase, one "exists blindly between the walls of past and future." That to which such consciousness is blind is, precisely, those walls. Hence it is blind to the fact that the present is present, and hence to the fact that one's consciousness exemplifies animal consciousness. But more than this contrast is required to cast historical consciousness into relief, for all that animal consciousness contrasts with is a consciousness of temporality; and the historical present is more than a moment one is conscious of as simultaneous with one's consciousness of it. To recognize the present as historical is to perceive both it and one's consciousness of it as something the meaning of which will only be given in the future, and in historical retrospection . For it is recognized as having the structure of what will be a past historical moment, namely as one the meaning of which is available to historians, but not necessarily to those to whom it was present, that meaning having been concealed from them for whatever reason it is that the future is hidden. But their future is part of the historian's past and historical consciousness is a matter of structuring our present in terms of our future and their past. There is an entire vocabulary, the language of narrative as we might call it, the rules of whose meaning presupposes internalization of this structure — a structure to which Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 17-32 0190-0031/82/0061-0017 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 18Philosophy and Literature even those with a temporal consciousness may be blind if they are like those happy women described by George Eliot as lacking, like happy nations, a past. To exist historically is to perceive the events one lives through as part of a story later to be told. There is an analogy between the acquisition of historical consciousness and the acquisition of that structure of perception Sartre speaks of in analyzing the dawning of consciousness of others for whom one exists as an object. For the knowledge that there are other consciousnesses transforms the way a person structures the world, inasmuch as there is a difference to be marked between this and the simple consciousness that there are differences between the objects of consciousness and one's self. Indeed, Sartre argues that one has no true conception of oneself as a self until one has the concept of other selves, for when that comes one abruptly perceives oneself as having, so to speak, an inside and an outside. The analogy is not casually drawn, because historical consciousness too sees events as having an inside and an outside, and marks a difference between the consciousness of living through events, and a consciousness of those events as seen from the outside, by historians for whom they are to be located in narrative structures. There is, in brief, an analogy between other minds and other times which is richer than the analogy between knowing about the past and knowing about external objects. But it would take me far afield to do more for now than to point the analogy out. Let me therefore address myself to historical knowledge as such, as a way of bringing to logical awareness some special features of the language of narrative. I Historians may be minimally characterized as seeking to make, and successful when they establish as true, statements about the past...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 17-32
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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