Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hayden White – The Historical Text as Literary Artifact – article summary and review


The form of narrative has traditionally served as a way of delivering events with a story. The historical narrative is often perceived as a series of events presented in a chronological order with the form of a story, the narrative, is a way of representing them. In this the notion of the historical narrative then the manner in which it is related to in classical narratology, at least as far as its more traditional understanding of narrative goes. This perception of narrative distinguishes fictional time and story time in a manner fitting with the premise of structuralism.

In his "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact" Hyden White perceives narrative as a prose written lingual utterance that has a development of events in a way that grants them with coherence and understandability. Hyden White views narrative as a complex of events spread across a sequence of verbally organized times in a manner that creates a gradual development of the events into a comprehensible form. Other philosophers that preceded Hyden White have already pointed out the fact that narrative grants historical events coherence, but Hyden White was the first to suggest the importance of their structuring in prose. In "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact" Hyden White argues that the same series of chronological events could be narrated in different manners by stressing different parts of the series of events, an action which he terms "emplotment". Hyden White does not mean by this interference or change in the order of the historical events in the historical narrative, but simply to a different construction of the same series of event in light of essentially literary conventions and through different emphasis of different events. Hyden White lists four main types of emplotment which are tragedy, satire, comedy and romance.  

Hyden White is without a doubt one of the more influential history philosophers starting from the late 70's till present day. Though some consider him the herald of postmodernism in history, he himself does not consider himself as a postmodernist and indeed a close inspection of his thought reveals a tendency towards traditional thought mainly in his structural approach towards narrative. The Historical Text a Literary Artifact is one of Hyden White's most notable works that illustrate some of his key notions on history and narrative. 

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