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Lewis Call

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, EEUU

Perhaps nothing has changed the way in which history is written

today more than the postmodern revolution in historiography. This

revolution is motivated partly by a recognition that history cannot afford

to ignore the implications of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century

linguistic philosophies, and partly by an ethical desire to replace the

politically and epistemologically suspect "grand narratives" of

Enlightenment historiography with more inclusive micro-narratives.

History's "linguistic turn" has certainly occurred; it now falls to

historians and philosophers of history to articulate the meaning of this


I wish to trace a very brief of history of postmodern historical

writing, beginning in the nineteenth century with the work of Friedrich

Nietzsche, and moving into the twentieth century with the work of Michel

Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In an important sense,

Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals may be understood as the first

postmodern historical work. In this text, Nietzsche derives a compelling

and provocative history of moral discourse from a linguistic exegesis of

binary semiotic units such as "good-bad" and "good-evil." By demonstrating

that the history of a discourse can be just as meaningful as a narrative of

"real" events, Nietzsche thus sets the stage for twentieth-century

postmodern and poststructural historiography. This contemporary

historiography is best exemplified by Foucault's more "empirical" works

(Discipline/Punish and The History of Sexuality), and by Gilles Deleuze and

Felix Guattari's monumental Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Foucault seeks

to open up new historiographic and epistemological regions by describing

the history of disciplinary and sexual discourses. Deleuze and Guattari

undertake the very ambitious project of constructing a schizophrenic

"anti-history." Theirs is a bold new kind of historical writing which

escapes from all linear narrative and locates historical discourse in a

series of fragmented, pluralistic moments or "plateaus."

The postmodern histories of Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze and

Guattari point the way to a vital new kind of historiography, but these

histories raise as many questions as they answer. Especially crucial is

the question of how this postmodern historiography relates to the

Enlightenment historiography which it displaces. Historical writing before

Nietzsche was clearly dominated by the values of the European

Enlightenment, including a belief in the validity of the scientific method

and its applicability to historical inquiry as well as a belief in the

probability of human social and cultural progress. The postmodern

historiography questions these comfortable assumptions. Nietzsche's Europe

is characterized not by scientific and social progress, but rather by a

deep cultural malaise. Foucault provides a radical challenge to

Enlightenment discourses which claim that the growth of the prison

represents a kinder, more humane punishment, or that the liberation of

desire will suffice to save us from bourgeois sexual repression. And the

very form and structure of Capitalism and Schizophrenia cries out against

the traditional "grand narratives" characteristic of Enlightenment

historiography. Yet the relationship between the postmodern and

Enlightenment historiographies is an ambiguous one. Nietzsche's thought

retains a utopian vision very much in harmony with the spirit of the

Enlightenment. Foucault's histories are motivated by a strong ethical

commitment which may well remind us of the Enlightenment's emancipatory

agenda. And even Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as it struggles to deploy a

"nomad thinking" which exists "outside the state apparatus," sometimes

seems to invoke a strangely mutated, postmodern version of the

Enlightenment's call to arms against the forces of tyranny and


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