Representations of historicism as the loss of meaning in history and critiques of historicism as the critique of such a loss had been pervasive from the late nineteenth century until World War II. Among historicism’s most powerful and representative critics were the young Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in his Parisian exile. This essay seeks to trace from Nietzsche to Benjamin an unbroken yet growing line of critique of historicism—as the “sickness of time” from which modernity both suffers and has been trying to recover. Two attempts at such a recovery will be examined and juxtaposed: Nietzsche’s “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” and Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” By thus situating both historicism and its critiques within the desires and anxieties of modernity, this essay tries to delineate and to understand the peculiarly modernist shapes assumed by the historical and its discontents.


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pp. 49-68
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