goto Appendx main menu Morton Horwitz :
Kim Anne Savelson
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KAS: one interesting question is whether you are distinguishing between history and culture. Do you think you are? I'm wondering this with a specific line of thought in mind. I'm thinking about what the literary historian Walter Benn Michaels has argued: that talking about "culture" has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought. That the conversation about "culture" is really still about race. It's just another way of continuing racial discourse, because culture and race are hand in hand; you can't really separate them. So the thoughts you just provided on history suggest there might be a distinction to be made between history and culture. What do you think? 

MJH: First, I need to briefly explain what I think are the benefits of history for any particular cultural field. The major function of history is to stand in the way of arrogant formulae that are presumed to be good for all times; to undermine and subvert the orthodoxies that develop in all intellectual professional fields; to constantly torment the dominators with the counterexample. That's the function of history. 

And above all, the function of history for its practitioners in any particular cultural field is to keep them from lying to themselves. To keep them from generating a mode of discourse that is basically displacement or denial in various forms. Now Michaels seems to be claiming displacement and denial, that culture has served to be a nice, anemic formula that allows you to talk about race without experiencing its pain, without experiencing its terrible wickedness and repression. All fields have this characteristic. It is part of the danger of the professionalism of all fields. The professionals tend to want nicely packaged, antiseptic, scientific professional versions of their subject matter. What history does is prevent that. 

That's why Kuhn explains in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that once a field attains the dullness of normal science, all that it has is pop history in its textbooks. History is no longer a vital explanatory category for how we got there. We want to elevate the present into what the past was existing for, to bring about the present. The present comes to have its own total justification.Appendx 3 page break 178 | 179 

KAS: So within this inevitabilist paradigm, the fissures or incoherences of the past become invisibilized? Perhaps this relates to a newly emerging perspective implied by the work of Michaels and others—a critique that suggests that we should not be clinging to culture, primarily because that signifies that we are still clinging to race as the basis for all of our sociocultural interaction. And I think this has something to do with the prophecy of fulfillment you just articulated—the circular, self-referential process that helps the present justify itself, as you put it. So he's suggesting that there should be no need to cling to culture and that the pathos is that we still must do that; everyone has to situate themselves within their culture in a possessive sense. It seems lately that quite a few scholars have argued that the idea of a culture that is ours will always be rooted in an essentialism about who we are. So, do you think that the law—getting back to these recent cases that you have criticized and your views on what's happening now—do you think that the law's place at this moment should be in one or another camp? Either continuing the discussion about race by acknowledging and recognizing it, and treating it in all of its historicity, or repudiating racial thought and race as a category? I'm not sure how the law would go about doing that, but I assume you could make the argument that the Supreme Court, employing neutral principals in the recent race cases, is repudiating race, and trying to go beyond it, could you not? 

MJH: Yes, yes. That's what the majority of the Supreme Court decided in terms of racially drawn districts. They would have described what they were doing as going beyond race. And what going beyond race means in that case is that though this was the first district that had elected a black in North Carolina since Reconstruction, going behind race meant returning to those districts that had not produced a single black. Why those districts should be regarded as neutral, or why the drawing of particular districts that for 100 years had excluded blacks from being elected should be regarded as going beyond race is questionable. So it's a question of whether you can actually go beyond race in a society in which so many institutions, certainly electoral districts in the south, have always been carved on the basis of race. next page

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