7001 1 What is the Status of the Past?

Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, (Thesis IX)

Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, (Thesis IX)

We will begin this week with five short pieces on the nature, knowability, and possible limits of historical knowledge itself.  While reading it, surely more than once, consider this big question: What is the status of the past? In other words, What is the value, if any, of studying a past that cannot be changed. These texts are mutually incompatible. Don’t try to make them agree. They don’t. Eventually you will have to have your own explicit understanding of historical time, but that day is not today.

“Why should I live in history, huh? F—, I don’t want to know anything anymore.” —Rust Cohle.


  1. Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, especially pages 92-8, but all is recommended.
  2. Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, all but especially pages 7-22.
  3. Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History
  4. Tosaka Jun, “The Principle of Everydayness and Historical Time
  5. Borges, “Funes, the Memorious

Not Planned but read these on Historical Memory given the recent events on Campus. We may not get to them this week but they should be part of our critical vocabulary going forward and we’ll find a way to work them in.