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Keywords:

  • documents;
  • historicity;
  • Memento;
  • Faulkner;
  • pastness;
  • constructivism;
  • realism

ABSTRACT

This article explores what it calls the “documentarist” hypothesis: the belief that the subject matter of history, the past, is structurally absent and thus can be reached only by way of documents, testamentary traces of various sorts (not only written texts, but artifacts, land arrangements, oral witnessing, and so on). The first part of the article works out the documentarist position through interpretations of creative works that embody it and of a variety of reflections on historiography—those of Michel de Certeau and Paul Ricoeur, as well as some “postmodern historiography.” It argues that documentarism ultimately faces an insoluble problem: it presupposes the pastness of the past, yet it cannot give itself the latter by way of the documents to which it believes itself confined. Documentarism assumes as already at hand a historical-temporal horizon of past, present, and future, for which it itself cannot account. In the second part of the article, accordingly, I turn to the historiographical portion of Faulkner's The Bear to expose the operativity of this always already given temporality. Faulkner's tale gives us access to a more radical historicity than any upon which documentarists reckon; yet this historicity turns out to sit askew from the usual frameworks of history as we know them, especially those of periods and epochs. The tension in Faulkner's own work between periodizing and event-laden explanations, I conclude, points to questions that fall beyond history as currently conceived.