On naively encountering the Other in History

Back in 1982 in a class on Ottoman history at SOAS, I still remember the feeling of shock when encountering Gallipoli as an Ottoman victory – an event I had always considered a huge defeat and tragedy. A similar feeling arose when I recently considered 1864 (or the Second Schleswig War), a monumental tragedy in terms of Danish history that still haunts the country. Yet, it was one of Bismarck’s earliest triumphs in his efforts to unite the German principalities into a single nation state.

Today when historians around the world compare and contrast historical events and movements in an effort to understand history on a global scale, this dichotomy, an almost zero-sum game, where one’s loss is the other’s victory can seem to be a stumbling block.

Ethan Kleinberg in his two interviews given to André da Silva Ramos in 2016 admits that the “conflict between the desire to find commonality while also embracing difference is an unresolvable one”. Yet Kleinberg foresees that, it is “in this intersection and in this tension” that “the future of the philosophy of history” lies and that “it is theory that provides the meta-language to address both sides” (André da Silva Ramos, “Ethan Kleinberg: Theory of History as Hauntology”, 2017, p. 228 , see also brief Youtube interview from the 2nd INTH conference in Brazil).

Another possible way of addressing the issue, one that is arguably an almost impossible exercise, although worth thinking about, is to use our imagination. And imagine that in the far distant future, humans were to live outside planet earth. How will they tell our history? The history of the human race? Would it then be possible to narrate a common history?

The astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996) and his colleagues developed messages to be sent with the spacecrafts Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager into deep space.  To my knowledge the history of the human race was not a topic that was addressed, although according to an article by Megan Gambino, photographs of wars were not included, despite war being “a reality of human existence”.

In my academia.edu profile, I once wrote that, ‘the concluding chapter of Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative contains two phrases which inform my thinking: “one time, one humanity, one history”  and ”…life itself, a cloth woven of stories told”’ (English translation, vol. 3, p. 258 and p.246). What type of history would human beings living in outer space recount to their offspring? Or even to an Other they may encounter?












On an impact of WWI

Among the approximately 1.3 million Frenchmen killed in WWI, were two young family fathers: 28 and 33 years of age respectively.

The first, a member of the 54th Company of the 1st Zouave regiment died in hospital on the 11th of October 1914 as a result of wounds from the first battle of the Marne in September 1914. The second, a sergeant in the 75th infantry regiment went missing in Perthes-lès-Hurlus, during the second battle of Champagne and was declared dead on the 26th September 1915.

The first was buried in Saint-Brieuc, far across the sea from his family and home in Algeria, in a country he had never lived in before, while the body of the other was only found in 1932 when a field was being ploughed, and the body identified by its tags.*

The first was a poor vineyard worker, a cellarman by trade, and the other a teacher of English.

The first left behind a partially deaf, illiterate widow, Catherine Hélène née Sintes (1882-1960), and two sons born in 1911 and 1913; the other  already a widower, left behind a daughter and son, again born in 1911 and 1913 respectively.

The first had grown up in an orphanage from infancy, after the deaths of both his parents, and his widowed wife moved with her 2 young children to her mother’s home, eking out a living thereafter as a cleaner.

The sergeant’s orphaned children continued living in Rennes with his parents and sister in whose care he had left his motherless children before he went off to war; his children having scant or no contact to the family of their mother, Florentine née Favre (1878-1913).

The deaths of  Lucien Auguste Camus (1885-1914) and Léon Jules Ricoeur (1881-1915) not only had a profound impact on their bereaved families, but also on 20th-century literature and philosophy through the writings and political engagement of their fatherless younger sons, Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) respectively.

* Paul Ricoeur, La critique et la conviction, 1995, p. 11.