Художественный текст и проблема исторической памяти

Translated title of the contribution: Literary Text and the Problem of Historical Memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper aims to clarify the cognitive content of a literary text in its relation to the historical process. In more specific terms, it aims to compare the literary text — as a vehicle of extremely rich information about the ‘reality’ of a particular period and the processes of the cultural formation of the empirical subjects of history — with the traditional historical narrative, which is focused on the problem of historical events and structures of knowledge. On the basis of my works published in recent years — the book The Concepts Used to Analyze 'Culture', as well as a series of essays — the paper analyzes the general configuration of cultural contents, which are retained by the literary text in its relation to the historical process, on the one hand, and familiar historical narratives and representations, on the other. After a general theoretical introduction, the essay proceeds to the discussion of traditional historical narratives, whose form and modality can be traced back to Greek historiography. It also briefly discusses some of the later types of historical narratives, like those focusing on the dynamics of historical ‘formations’ or technical developments. In all these types of historical research, a literary text can be little more than just one among many subsidiary assets. In contrast to these narratives, in different types of 20th century historical research literary texts emerge as a major focus of interest. These trends range from the French ‘Annales’ School’ in the first half of the 20th century to the American New-Historicism of the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, the theoretical reasons owing to which a literary text that describes imaginary worlds and persons may become a more important source of historical information than a document narrating ‘historical events’, have not yet been analyzed in detail, and deserve in-depth, independent theoretical scrutiny.
After a brief enumeration of the ‘traces’ of literary history as such, which — as is well known — are retained by literary texts, the paper concludes that the awareness of their existence contributes relatively little to the general understanding of the problem. In contrast, drawing upon the works mentioned above, the paper enumerates the broad range of diverse cultural contents, processes and structures retained by the literary text. These components, most of which are crucial to the functioning of culture as a whole, range from the conceptual and epistemological fields, basic behavioral scripts and norms — through the processes of the archetypization of symbols and the metaphorical ‘mappings’ of cognitive fields — to the general interrelations of meaning and power and, to use Fredric Jameson’s felicitous term, the ‘political unconscious. ’ In the discussion to follow, two corollaries from this understanding are stressed. First, these are cultural processes and contents that form the very ‘reality’ wherein a particular ‘historical event’ takes place, as well as the empirical subjects of these events. Second, most of these cultural structures, processes and contents are situated below the threshold of the consciousness of the empirical subject. Correspondingly, in normal circumstances they do not become an object of reflection — not only in documents that are written by the participants and witnesses of the events, but also in much later historical works, as they are based on these documents. This, in turn, means that from the point of view of the problem of historical understanding, the literary text is far from being just an auxiliary carrier of historical memory which is, however, capable of enlivening and beautifying the ‘dry language of historical fact,’ as historians used to say. It is rather the vehicle of a much more authentic and scientifically significant form of historical memory — not only in comparison to textbooks in history, but also to traditional historical research. Therefore, like the psychoanalyst, who seeks to transform the unconscious, confused or forgotten contents of the patient’s mind into clear and conscious understandings, so the cultural analyst must also strive to transform the unconscious knowledge and vague memory of a literary text into the clear and conscious memory of cultural and historical analysis.
Translated title of the contributionLiterary Text and the Problem of Historical Memory
Original languageRussian
Pages (from-to)136-155
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2013


Dive into the research topics of 'Literary Text and the Problem of Historical Memory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this