Online Lecture: "The Narrative Sublime: On Freedom and Construction of the Past"

Dr. Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum (National Autonomous University of Mexico), 31.03.2022, 18h (Finnish time), Zoom
Web-lecture Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum

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Both narrativism and postnarrativism have argued that narratives are aesthetic practices that lack epistemic content. One of the central aims of this paper is to rethink and reclaim the epistemological value of narratives. To do so, I will argue for a productive analogy between what inspires in us the experience of the sublime in the natural world and what an historian must overcome when confronted with the sources of the past. In each case, reason provides what experience cannot. In the specific case of history, narratives enable historians to comprehend the past in one whole and thus give meaning to an array of information.

The structure of this paper is as follows. In the first part I will make evident two experiences that are part of the historian’s endeavor. The first one involves an unsettling feeling that comes from being confronted with the vestiges of the past. The second one shows that to overcome this feeling we need to perform certain activities that will lead to making the past knowable. I call these experiences epistemic phenomenology. In the second part, I will make evident that there are two cognitive activities that reason entails that enable us to move past the feeling of being disconcerted: 1. It allows us to give form and meaning to what is otherwise formless and boundless. 2. It allows us to comprehend how different parts belong together in a retrospective unitary whole. I hold that these two activities are part of the cognitive content of narratives. They allow us to transform what is unbound and formless into something that has meaning and thus is knowable.

Finally, in the third part of this paper I show that the analogy between the sublime and historical research also helps us argue for a type of freedom that allows us to rethink and resignify the past. This in turn, will reveal how we are free autonomous creatures that are not bound to a deterministic past, but rather are free to give meaning to it in light of new needs.

Key words: narrative, epistemic value, sublime, comprehension, retrospection, freedom.

Last updated: 23.3.2022