Many Knowledges for Our Discourse

Narratives, Many
Narratives, Many

Thanks to Nick and everyone else involved in Carnivalesque for including a post from this blog in the 50th edition of said early modern blog carnival. Also in the issue was Gilbert Mabbott (or indeed Patrick Ludolph) on post-modern post-revisionism. Regular readers here might have noticed me circling around the  brave new inconclusiveness of modern historiography. A different old teacher than the one I mentioned last week once told a friend who was quaintly attached, with the naivety only A-Level study can provide, to constitutional history that three weeks at university would turn him into an inveterate post-modernist. An exagerration, of course, but surely almost all of us are (albeit grudgingly) somewhere on the post-modernist spectrum now? That is, we’re all  abit ditherery.

Characterising Peter Lake, the post at Gilbert Mabbot says: “Lake is looking for a “multiplicity of narratives” to replace the master narrative.” We’re big Lake fans in this parish, but of course it’d be hard to call this approach Lakeian: everyone’s at it. I was reminded, for instance, of Michael Braddick’s comment on Ted Vallance’s blog (yes, it’s so not Lakeian that it’s even getting posted on the internet). On the purported inconclusiveness of his God’s Fury, England’s Fire, Braddick wrote, “I did not though insist that readers should accept that there was one particular significance to be derived from these experiences, or one voice which was really representative of the revolution.”

I’m not sure about Braddick’s argument in the comment that a summary is necessarily a conclusion, but at the same time I’m nervous like him about branding anyone without a dogma to be a full-blooded post-modernist (or indeed anywhere close to one on that dirty old spectrum). At the same time, a fear of dogma risks not just a multiplicity but a mess of narratives, doesn’t it?

Also in Carnivalesque 50 was Lisa Diller on the relevance of early modern study. Refusing the relevance of big narratives is dangerous in this sense; but at the same time, one man’s inconclusiveness is another’s broad applicability. Braddick links the English Civil War with the American and French revolutions, the rise of England as a great power, the history of European republicanism and the Enlightment. If it gives no grand sweep or explicatory arc for historical events, the many strands of narrative multiplicity provide at least a great many reasons to care about them. Contemporary relevancy is a whole nother issue, but those of us who like our conclusions meaty should always spare a thought for the expansiveness of the alternative.


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