Some quotations I've
found that illustrate the concept
(back to top)
(The selection and order is according to when I came across them.)
- George Steiner (*1929, novelist), in 1999:
"No storyteller is in a position to anatomize his own innermost
impulses and, often subconscious, motivations. Nor is he an authorized
judge of his readers' and audience's reaction. Hence the adage which
bids us trust the tale and not its teller. Hence what is called 'the
hermeneutic question': do the respondents to a text, to any work of
art, notably after the event, not 'know better' than the author, penetrating
his intentions and self-deceptions as he is unable to do?"
In: The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. (Chicago: University
of Chicago, 1981 ; afterword copyright 1999), p. 172 (the
afterword). LC: PR6069.T417P6 1999. This is a fictional account of the
capture of Adolf Hitler, had he survived the war and escaped to South
America. In the afterword the author responds to criticism the book
- Henri Matisse (1869-1954, renowned artist), in 1951:
"If the spectator renounces his own quality in order to
identify himself with the spiritual quality of those who lived when
the work of art was created, he impoverishes himself and disturbs the
fullness of his pleasure--a bit like the man who searches, with retrospective
jealousy, the past of the woman he loves."
(quoted after: Jack D. Flam, Matisse on Art (New York,
1973, p. 135)
- Pierre Nora (*1931, director and author of the French
project Realms of Memory), in 1993:
"What counts [in the overall history of memory] are not
objects, mere signs and traces, but the nature of the relationship to
the past, and the ways that the present uses and reconstructs the past."
(I've translated this from the following German translation of the original French by Marcel Streng:
"Was [in der gesamten Gedächtnisgeschichte] zählt, sind
nicht Gegenstände, bloße Anzeichen und Spuren, sondern die
Art der Beziehung zur Vergangenheit und die Art, wie die Gegenwart die
Vergangenheit gebraucht und rekonstruiert.")
In: "La notion de 'lieu de mémoire' est-elle exportable?,"
in: Pim den Boer, Willem Frijhoff (eds.), Lieux de mémoire
et identités nationales (Amsterdam 1993): 3-10, 10. Quoted
after Henri Rousso, "Das Dilemma eines europäischen Gedächtnisses,"
in: Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History,
Online-Ausgabe, 1:3 (2004),
- "When you put a frame around things, you intensify them.
Experience without that frame is banal." (In other words,
context and interpretation are just about everything.)
Stephan Kijak, codirector of the film Cinemaniacs (2003), about
art (from a 5/31/03
interview on NPR Sat. Morning Edition).
- James I. Porter, professor of classical studies and
co-founder of Contexts for Classics, writing Homer: The Very Idea
(forthcoming; 8/08: not out, but see ref. below):
"What I've begun experimenting with recently in the classroom and
in my writing is not to prove the monumental value of the two poems
ascribed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, but
to explore this feature, which they undoubtedly have accrued over time--less
their quality as great works of literature than their role as
cultural icons, as signifiers of value, and as landmarks in the evolving
relationship between literature and culture. My focus, in other
words, is on Homer's place--the very idea of Homer--in the culture wars
of antiquity and modernity. A perspective such as this is an invitation
to study the intellectual and cultural history of value."
His institute, Contexts
for Classics, writes in its founding grant proposal that its purpose
is '...to interrogate the very construction of a Classical idea (or
ideal). To pursue this critical interrogation of Classics, it is important
to theorize our relation to the study of Classical antiquity and to
articulate paradigms for reception and transmission that enable us to
complicate broad claims to "Classical Tradition."'
In: "Why Homer? Why Now?" University of Michigan LSA Magazine
(Spring 2003), p. 38.
By the way, historians of the ancient world may be ahead of the rest
of us when it comes to reception issues. See my
reception links section, below.
- Elliott Gorn, professor of history at Purdue University,
in an article titled "Professing History: Distinguishing
Between Memory and the Past":
"Take a subject, say the American Civil War, and
grind through a hundred years of scholarly writing on the topic. You
are left deeply humbled. After much impressive marshaling of evidence
and even occasionally fine prose by generations of talented scholars,
your head spins with contradictions -- the Civil War was an "irrepressible
conflict" and an avoidable one; an ideological war to end slavery and
a war that had nothing to do with slavery; a war waged by a rising bourgeoisie
against a proto-aristocracy and a war of capitalists fighting each other.
"Historiography teaches us that all interpretation is limited by
the cultural biases of our times, the skills of the individual historian,
the limits of primary sources, the perspectives and blindnesses created
by a scholar's social position (yes, race, class, and gender, among
other factors). That's why all the hoopla over postmodernism always
seemed a bit overblown to many historians. We've been dealing with those
issues for a long time; relativism is in our blood."
In: The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 28, 2000 (archived
full text of article).
- Karrin M. Hanshew, Department of History, University of Chicago, writes
in an H-Net
review of: Dieter Rucht, ed. Protest in der Bundesrepublik:
Strukturen und Entwicklungen (Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 2001):
"Each of the volume's eight essays draws from the
project, "Documentation and Analysis of Protest Events in the Federal
Republic of Germany" (Prodat) carried out at the Wissenschaftszentrum
fuer Sozialforschung in Berlin. Since its inception in 1992, Prodat
has collected a database for the examination of change and continuity
in German protest between 1950 and 1994. ... As the project's central
unit of analysis, a "protest event" is defined in the introduction
as a "collective, public action by non-state actors that successfully
expresses a critique or protest and that is connected to the formulation
of a social or political demand" (p. 19). The project's source
base is limited to two nationally distributed newspapers, the Frankfurter
Rundschau and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
... The authors confront potential (and real) criticisms of Prodat's
limited source base head-on and openly concede that the picture provided
by their media sample far from represents the entire reality of protest.
In addition, they acknowledge the significant influence of media selectivity
on their results. The authors counter such objections, however, by
emphasizing the importance of reception in determining an individual
protest's political-social weight. Without an intermediary force to
sympathize with the protesters' message and, ultimately, to create the
pressure on established political institutions necessary to enact change,
the protest cannot succeed (pp. 33-34). Rucht and Neidhardt
state that journalists, more than any other intermediary force, are
responsible for making protest "real" by registering it and
thereby validating it as an event. Only in this way does protest find
a place in the perceptions and opinions of the population in general
and of decision-makers in particular (pp. 62-63)." ["Christiane
Eilders concludes the volume by returning to the problem of media selectivity
in reporting protest events. Her systematic study of the Frankfurter
Rundschau, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the tageszeitung
demonstrates a high level of agreement by all three newspapers
on the "structural characteristics" by which protests are
- Historian Bill Niven, in a 2007 review of the Berlin German Historical Museum's permanent exhibition:
"But precisely because grand narratives are symptoms of a bygone era, an exhibition focusing on the past needs to take them into account as historical phenomena. How have the Germans viewed their history through the centuries? How have they sought to make sense of it? How were politics, foreign policy and culture at any given point in German history influenced by grand visions, visions themselves inspired and reinforced by stories about Germany’s past greatness? It is disappointing that the exhibition makes no attempt to show us how Germans in the past understood their past, present and future. Such an attempt would have given the exhibition a coherence, without recourse to any single grand narrative. A chance has been missed."