The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Love, loss and the sublime experience of the past

“[T]his experience of the past may come into being by a movement comprising at the same time the discovery and a recovery of the past. Historical experience involves, in the first place, a Gestalt-switch from a timeless present into a world consisting of things past and present. This gives us the discovery of the past as a reality that has somehow ‘broken off’ from a timeless present. This is ‘the moment of loss.’ But at the same time historical experience aims at a recovery of the past by transcending again the barriers between past and present. And this could be characterized as ‘the moment of desire or of love.” All of historical writing is to be situated in the space enclosed by these complemtary movements of the discovery (loss) and the recovery of the past (love) that constitute together the realm of historical experience. Past and present are related to each other as man and wife in Plato’s myth of the origin of the sexes … The sublimity of historical experience originates from this paradoxical union of the feelings of loss and love, that is, of the combination of pain and pleasure in how we relate to the past.”

F.R. Ankersmit, Sublime Historical Experience (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2005), 9.

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