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Shadowing History: National Narrative and the Persistence of the Everyday

CIRA Lecture Series with Harry Harootunian

Thursday, June 03, 2004
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Public Policy 2214
Los Angeles, CA 90095


The issue Professor Harootunian addresses in this lecture is how history, as practiced in historiography or historywriting, is actually based upon its capacity to conceal, disguise and indeed suppress the everyday. This is especially true when we consider that most history is really driven by the category of the nation state and a conception of abstract time. Far from envisaging a history free or rescued from the nation, most historywriting ends up reinforcing it. This may be its only vocation. In other words, history's primary task has been to displace the constant danger posed by the surplus of everyday life, to overcome its apparent 'trivia,' 'banalities' and untidiness in order to find a register that will fix meaning. With Hegel, narrative was given the role of supplying the maximal unity by which to grasp the meaning of history. What immediately got privileged was, of course, the nation state in the making of world historical events or and ultimately class, subjects who can claim world historical agency. By the same measure, the surplus or messy residues of modern life, especially its immensely staggering complexities, its endless incompletions and repetitions--all irreducible--are repressed or in some instances the microcosmic is sometimes mobilized to reinforce macrocosmic meaning.  (This frequently has been called history from below and what Germans have called altagsgeschicte.) What this lecture explores is the category everydayness, appearing with the formation of the masses and the subaltern, as a minimal unity, provides its own principle of historical temporality that easily challenges the practice of historywriting as we know it.  In many ways considerations of everydayness reflected the desire to find a domain of qualitative time against the quantifications taking place in modern science and capitalism. Everydayness was, moreover, a productive category for societies outside of Euro-America, undergoing capitalist modernizations, to challenge the form of national history--especially its narrative form-- identified with the state and which derived from another's experience.

Harry Harootunian was formerly Max Palevsky Professor of History and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is currently Professor of History and Chair of the department of East Asian Studies of NYU. He was former editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, co-editor of Critical Inquiry, where he is still a member of the editorial board, formerly a member of the editorial board for Hihyo Kukan, and co-editor, with Masao Miyoshi and Rey Chow of the Asia/Pacific Series of Duke University Press. His most recent publications are: "History's Disquiet:  Modernity, Cultural Practice and the Question of the Everyday" (Wellek Lectures, Columbia University Press, 2000), "Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture and Community in Interwar Japan," (Princeton U. Press) and "Learning Places," co-edited with Masao Miyoshi.  He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.

Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, Comparative and Interdisciplinary Research on Asia, UCLA International Institute, Asia Institute

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