Tuesday, April 30, 2013


 Here's Isaiah Berlin as we like to remember him:
It is difficult enough to develop an adequate consciousness of what we are and what we are at, and how we have arrived where we have done, without also being led on to make clear to ourselves what such consciousness and self-consciousness must have been like for persons in situations different form our own; yet no less is expected of the true historian. ... [I]maginative projection of ourselves  into the past, the attempt to capture concepts and categories not altogether like ours by means of concepts and categories that cannot but be our own, is a task that we can never be sure that we are even beginning to achieve, yet are not permitted to abjure.  We seek to apply scientific tests to our conclusions, but this will take us but a lttle way.  Without a capacity for sympathy and imagination beyond any required by a physicist, there is no vision of either past or present, neither of others nor of ourselves; but without this, normal--as well as historical--thinking cannot function at all.
--"The Concept of Scientific History," I History and Theory 1 (1961) at 26-7.  So my old notes from perhaps 37 years ago.  I don't have that book any more (I think maybe I read it in the library at the London School of Economics).  But I do see tht the same essay is bound up in a paperback appropriately enough titled Concepts and Categories, published in 1980.

I'm remembering Piaget (yes?--I can't find the reference) testing kids on the developing political consciousness by inquiring whether they could recognize "the same" mountain when photographed from different angles, i.e., from different points of view.  And those (can't find a good cite) who talk about the development of perspective in Renaissance art as part and parcel of a growing political maturity (but they still burned Savonarola at the stake).

I copied out the  Berlin quote about 30 years ago. I bet it was about the same time that I copied out two passages from Arnold Hauser's Social History of Art.  First:
When Ibsen was once asked why he gave the heroine of his Doll's House such a foreign-sounding name, he answered that she was named after her grandmother who was Italian.   Her real name was Eleonora, but she had been pampered as a child and called Nora.  to the objection that all this played no part in the play itself, he replied in amazement: 'But facts are still facts.'
--Id., 52.  And:
There is an extraordinary number of anecdotes about Balzac's relationship to his characters, similar to the one about Ibsen. The best known is the incident with Jules Sandeaux who, while telling him about his sister's illness, was interrupted by Balzac saying: 'That's all very well, but let's get back to reality: to whom are we going to marry Eugenie Grandet?
 Id., 53.   This is perhaps the attitude that the Shakespearean critic L.C. Knight mocked (and substantially undermined) with his essay ""How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?"--a question which, bye the  bye, the author made no attempt to answer.

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