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The Names of History

On the Poetics of Knowledge

1994
Author:

Jacques Ranciere
Translated by Hassan Melehy
Foreword by Hayden White

The Names of History

Reveals the significant impact of historiography on the human sciences during the twentieth century.

How can the language of history balance storytelling with truth-telling? Rancière considers this question in a meditation on the poetics of historical knowledge that attempts to identify the literary procedures by which historical discourse escapes literature and gives itself the status of a science.

Many books have been written on the twin issues of a poetics of history, the question of narrative in the Annales school and Michelet, and the new cultural history. None however combines as effectively as Rancière a critique of the Annales school with an understanding of the new epistemological departures that I like to call poststructuralism. In his readings of the great texts of the Annales school, many of Rancière's formulations are quite simply stunning.

Mark Poster, University of California, Irvine

History in our day is still a story, and yet one that we expect to tell the truth-not just the people and the events of the past, but the invisible order and forces behind them. How can the language of history balance these seemingly contrary tasks, the narrative, the scientific, and the political? This is the question Jacques Rancière explores in The Names of History, a meditation on the poetics of historical knowledge.
In the works of writers from Jules Michelet to Fernand Braudel, Rancière traces an ongoing revolution in historical study, a movement that has challenged, in the practice of language, the opposition of science and literature. By way of a commentary on Erich Auerbach, he shows how fictional narrative intertwines with historical narrative to produce a "truth" that retains mythical elements.
The poetics of knowledge Rancière develops here is an attempt to identify the literary procedures by which historical discourse escapes literature and gives itself the status of a science. His book is also a consideration of Braudel, whose work in the Annales school advanced this project. Rancière follows and extends Braudel's discursive production of new agencies of history, which accounts for the material conditions in which history takes place as well as the language in which it is written. Through an examination of Braudel's style, Rancière valorizes the repressed literary side of history-a model of which he finds in the work of Michelet.
In closing, he insists on the interdisciplinary character of historical study, not least in connection with recent developments in philosophy and critical theory.

Contents
Foreword
A Secular Battle
The Dead King
The Excess of Words
The Founding Narrative
The Place of Speech
The Space of the Book
A Heretical History?

The Names of History

Jacques Rancière is professor of aesthetics at the University of Paris-VII, Jussieu. Two of his books have appeared in English: The Nights of Labor: The Worker's Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (1989) and The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991).

Hassan Melehy teaches in the department of French and Italian at Miami University, Ohio.

Hayden White is professor of historical studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. White is the author of Metahistory (1973).

The Names of History

Many books have been written on the twin issues of a poetics of history, the question of narrative in the Annales school and Michelet, and the new cultural history. None however combines as effectively as Rancière a critique of the Annales school with an understanding of the new epistemological departures that I like to call poststructuralism. In his readings of the great texts of the Annales school, many of Rancière's formulations are quite simply stunning.

Mark Poster, University of California, Irvine