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Naveen Kanalu Ramamurthy

Los Angeles, USA
Memory, Irony, and Symbols: History as Hieroglyphs
Wednesday, 13th September | 14:00 – 15:30

Hegel defined the universal meaning of history for the subjects of the present as involving two kinds of cultural memory: Erinnerung and Gedächtnis. Erinnerung relates to the internal recollection within the experience undergone by the subject. However, as Hegel says, Gedächtnis, – the Tätigkeit des Gedankens or the “activity of thought” -, represents a thinking of the object of reflection within the mnemonic act. If the former is personal recollection, the latter is a remembrance guaranteed by the thought of what has passed by. In examining the discourse of history as a form of practicing humanities, I wish to argue that the mechanism through which it is memorized is usually understood in the discipline of history as historia rerum gestarum, the narrative history as it represents the res gestae or the historical deeds themselves. However, historia rerum gestarum, as Hegel reminds us, cannot be reduced to the res gestae. The former is only referentially true, and that too, in a limited manner, to the historical deeds. Although Hegel’s philosophy of history is often discredited in contemporary humanities and the social sciences, it is still relevant to ask why we practice history. What are the ends of history – where do history lead us, and what is its purpose? Is it merely “cultural memory”, which belongs to particular forms of entities such as nations, regions, or languages as spheres of human experience? Or, could it be a more fundamental form of memory, which we can recover by recognizing the irony of doing history, that is, practicing history as a professional craft. For instance, why at all historical knowledge would be necessary for the present and the future, in so far as those res gestae do not belong to us anymore. In taking this skeptical question even before addressing the epistemological status of historical knowledge, I wish to argues for the tendentious nature of the historical form of humanities as a thinking at the edge of an abyss. That is to say, when we practice humanities both in writing and in relation to others, we are always open not only to remembering and recollecting, but also to the trauma, imaginaries, and fantasies through which our human experience comes to be. Although Hegel postulates a divine attribute to history as an end in itself, could we rethink history in terms of immanence and futurity? To do so, I take recourse to a particular problem within Western philosophical thinking around the early modern period on the historicity and the origins of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, their meaning, and symbolic representation. Reading the controversies surrounding thinkers such as Leibniz and Hegel, I argue that we need to think of history as a hieroglyph that symbolizes a language that is neither the representation of “things” nor “words”. That is to say, each time we recognize that the historical form renders it possible to think our knowledge as well as human experience, which is transformed by the practices we name as humanities, we encounter difference. However, I argue that this difference, as can be demonstrated through hieroglyphs, is not ontological in nature but historical in character. How do we recognize it not as a radical difference but a difference that can be endlessly ceased upon in its historicity? So, could then history have a therapeutic function of exposing the history of the past experiences as ways of opening the possibilities of being for us in the present?