INTENTION AND IRONY: THE MISSED ENCOUNTER Betwixt HAYDEN WHITE AND QUENTIN SKINNER
History and Theory
Vol. 52, No. ane (FEBRUARY 2013)
, pp. 32-48 (17 pages)
Published By: Wiley
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No contemporary intellectual historian has produced more influential reflections on the historian’s craft than Hayden White and Quentin Skinner, withal their legacy has never been meaningfully compared. Doing so reveals a surprising complementarity in their approach, at least to the extent that Skinner’s stress on recovering the intentionality of authors fits well with White’s ascertainment that irony is the dominant rhetorical mode of historical narrative in our day. Irony itself, to be sure, has to exist divided broadly speaking into its dramatic or Socratic variants and the unstable and paradoxical alternative defended by poststructuralist critics. The latter produced in White an anxiety near the anarchistic implications of an allegedly inherent undecidability in historical estimation and narration, which threatened to conflate history entirely with fiction. Past recovering the necessary office of intentionality as a prerequisite for a more than moderate version of Socratic and dramatic irony—in which retrospect provides some purchase on a truth denied actors at the time history is made—it is possible to rescue an ironic attitude that tin can register the frequency of unintended consequences without surrendering to the conclusion that no explanation or estimation is superior to another. Against all the same a tertiary alternative, which tries to reconstruct the past rationally every bit a prelude to the present, acknowledging the ironic undermining of intentions avoids giving all the power to the contemporary historian and restores a dialogic balance between actors in the past and their nowadays-solar day interpreters.
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