(This is a text from last year’s discussion with Stéphane Lévesque and Gabriel Reich on narrative patterns’ role in reflecting on monument and memorial policy. I never got round to finishing ist. Sorry for the delay.)
In their texts and in the earlier discussion (first on Public History Weekly: Lévesque, Stéphane (2018): Removing the Past?, then on Active History CA: A new approach to debates over Macdonald and other monuments in Canada, Part 1 and Part 2), Lévesque suggested a model of different levels of historical competencies following Jörn Rüsen’s typology of narrative patterns.
While I agree that there is a lot of plausibility in a sequential development of these types of narrating throughout (Western) history, and that the genetic type is the most complex and advanced one, I don’t find much plausibility in the idea that in the development of student’ thinking within their lifetime, the traditional type should have any priority to the other ones. Instead, I think that students encounter full-fledged narratives as well as simple statements of all types simultaneously from the beginning, and will acquire them alongside each other — but only gradually learn to recognize them for what they are, grasping their logic.
Consider the following graph:
© Andreas Körber 2018
It is to visualize the idea that increasing recognition of change in historic time (the x‑axis) first leads to the development of the traditional type (asking for the origin of the currently valid, in cloud 1), then the experience that what has originated can also perish again and therefore asking for origins is not enough, lead to the development of the exemplaric type, asking for patterns and rules behind the change on the surface (cloud 2), and only modern experience of increased/accelerated change then led to the development of the genetic type, asking for the direction.
Each of these patterns leads to different expectations for the future. Initially (green perspective), the future may seem quite similar from the present. What is perceived as having begun, stays valid. Only from the (later) blue perspective, a pattern seems discernible, leading to the expectations that the future will also yield similar patterns of events as are detected in the past. From the (still later) orange perspective, an (additional?) increase in their “magniture” can be perceived and its continuation be expected.
The graph also is to show that the rules and patterns as well as ideas of origins have not been rendered obsolete by each new type, but are superimposed or integrated into it.
I use this graph in my lecture. I now have added the small arrows. They are to indicate the learning-necessities of a person within a relatively short time-span of life or even youth. While in pre-modern times, they only encountered the then-developed patterns (if the model is valid), in modernity, they will have to use all patterns simultaneously, in order not make sense differentially.
The idea of a homology is problematic in another way, also. It might suggest that people in antiquity (or pre-modern-times) were developed rather like children or youths, not really grown-ups. This idea is not new, but is very problematic. As you might be aware of, Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy, suggested that the “ancient” Greek had a mental age of about 7‑years-olds. And there was a very influential German “didact” of history in the 19th century (Friedrich Kohlrausch), who combined a similar idea of the homological development in the way people conceived “god” with that of becoming of age. So only the modern man was really “grown up” (and is was the Germans who did so — very nationalist).
Because of Rüsen’s idea of a “homology” in the sequence of development of narrating types between mankind (phylogenesis) and individuals (ontogenesis), Bodo von Borries (and I as assistant to him) did a large-scale research in the early 1990s, were we presented students with items of different typological logic to dilemma-situations, like Rüsen himself has used for qualitative research and for explaining the narrative types. We did find a predominance of agreement to “traditional” items with 6th-graders (abt. 11 yrs), but found no linear development. In fact, 9th-graders seemed even to regress. All this is published in German only, I fear.
I would strongly suggest to distinguish between the historical development and hierarchy of these patterns on the one hand and progression in learning on the other hand, for which I suggest the third dimension.
As for Lévesque’s revised table of competencies in a further comment in PHW and his evaluation that Gabriel Reich is correct in that the genetic type provides no solution to the question of whether to keep or get rid of monuments: Do these types really lead to specific political positions — especially if they are always combined? Or do they rather characterize part of their underlying understanding? I think there are different positions and solutions possible by each narrative. The value of the differentiation of types of meaning making and narration is rather analytical than prescriptive.
And that is also the pedagogical value: I think these typologies (your table and mine) can be used for classifying and discussing statements of people in the political debate. It will enhance students ability to recognize the logics behind specific political stances. And it may well show that both suggestions of keeping and of getting rid of can be underpinned by different types of narrative, but that would generate maybe different policies:
Take an example from Gabriel Reich’s patch, again: civil war monuments in Richmond.
One could argue for keeping the statutes on Monument Avenue on grounds of purely traditional thinking: to mark the origins of the specific state of things. This is both possible in partisan ways (only “our” heroes), but also in a more “inclusive” form, asking for such monument of both sides to be presented, to mark the origin of the countries “division”. Equally in traditional mode (but with different political background), one might call for their removal. If you hold that the division they mark is no longer given, they might be removed.
In exemplaric mode (as I opined earlier), one could speak out for the preservation of the monuments on the grounds that they exemplify a certain time and culture which we can still consider as “overcome”, but one can also argue for their removal because they represented outdated or politically non-supportable relations to the past, and that our time needs to find new ones, not “progressed” ones, but such which reflect the “characteristics of our time”.
I do agree that to hold a specifically genetic view makes it hard to envision the whole question as one of keeping vs. removing, — but it doesn’t exclude it to the full extent.
If people are thinking predominantly in genetic mode, experiencing the country to having overcome that division, they object to a traditional logic they perceived the monuments to have. In this case, it would be the tension between one’s own genetic mode of thinking and that perceived in the monuments, which would generate a political position.
If the genetic perspective was upon how to improve commemoration, one might ask for making such commemorations “more inclusive”. This may have been behind erecting a monument for Arthur Ashe among the confederate generals — not a very consistent move, though, given that is merely additively combines monuments. In fact, it creates a “memorial landscape” of a rather complex narrative structure, part of which is traditional (“heroes”) and exemplary (“each group”), but by doing so enforces a new kind of traditionality (keeping the racial groups apart, assigning each “their own” tradition to hold up). So the intended “progress” by inclusivity (“An avenue for all people”) may in fact have created a multi-traditional narrative. 1
But there are other possible solutions suggested by genetic thinking. The concept of past people being “children of their own time” is as genetic as it can get, referring to a fundamental change in time, so that morals and actions might be considered incommensurable across times. This concept has been used for exonerating past peoples views and actions. On this ground, one might call it “useless”. But it isn’t. Genetic historical thinking entails both — to recognize the temporal change and moral and political contexts for past actions different from ours, AND to recognize that our own context is valid, too.
From this point of view, it may underpin a present position transgressing the “keep/remove”-divide, namely to find ways of memorializing civil war “heroes” (and/or “villains” that is) that do NOT inadvertently invite for traditional or exemplaric heroic reading, but specifically marks the distance of time.
It is imperative, this thinking goes, to keep these memorials, but not as heroic marks to the past or as ambivalent markers. One should not just remove them, for that would put into oblivion not only the past, but also the whole discussion and reflections, the uneasiness about its representation which sparked the discussion in the first place. Genetic thinking would not be content to just remove the heroism (especially that of the wrong, side) with the effect to have no memory at all, but would call for a memorialization which specifically marks the change between that time and ours today.
Again, take a Hamburg example. In an earlier contribution to this discussion I already hinted to counter-memorialisation. One of the best examples is here in Hamburg-Altona:
Next to Altona’s St. Johannis Church, a monument had been erected in 1925 for the members of the 31st Infantry Regiment in WW1, commissioned by survivors of that regiment. Each of the three sides of the column-like monument made of clinker features an oversized, half-naked figure, representing a warrior with some antique weapon.
The inscription below reads “To the fallen for a grateful memory, to the living for a reminder, to the coming generations for emulation.” 3. Clearly a very traditional proto-narrative, both extending the own warriorship of the soldiers into antiquity and calling for its emulation, lacking any transcendence. The formula was coined by August Böckh for Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and was used on monuments remembering the “liberation wars” against Napoleon, but also later on those for the “unification wars” of 1870/71. After the losses of millions in WW1, its usage — especially of the third element — is remarkable, albeit not alltogether uncommon 4.
In the mid-1990s, the church’s congregation commissioned a counter-memorial, created by Rainer Tiedje, consisting of three acryl-glass-plates, each directly confronting one of the warriors, depicting “dark, emaciated, fearful creatures”, as the explanation on the page “denkmalhamburg.de” states (thus on http://denkmalhamburg.de/kriegerdenkmal-an-der-st-johanniskirche/, my translation). It concludes “In the center the heroism and the exaltation, in front of it it the horror of war. A successful mixture.” (my translation).
To me, this countermemorial is not just a (exemplaric-mode) juxtaposition of (tradtional-mode) heroism and horror of war, but there is fundamentally genetic part in it: the counter-memorial does not merely point to timeless horrors of the consequences of warfare, but leans on a visual vocabulary established in Holocaust memorials: The “suffering men” who wriggles with pain (and fear) on eye-level with the warriors, look like “muselmen”, the completely debilitated and immiserated inmates of the Nazi concentration camps. In its iconography, the counter-memorial belongs to the generation of monuments which coerce the viewer, the public to find and answer, not providing one themselves, either in being abstract or — as here — by visualizing death and disappearance in any but heroic form 5. It is this feature, using a visual code depending not only abstractly on hindsight but on concrete knowledge about what such heroism-propaganda did help to bring about, together with the effective placing which renders impossible “commemoration ceremonies, at which the plaques are not noticed”, which indicate to a specific genetic thinking below it, trying to transgress the thinking of the time.
- Cf. https://onmonumentave.com/blog/2017/11/20/an-avenue-for-for-all-people-how-arthur-ashe-came-to-monument-avenue
- Photo by 1970gemini in der Wikipedia auf Deutsch, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19523318
- See http://denkmalhamburg.de/kriegerdenkmal-an-der-st-johanniskirche/
- Cf. Koselleck, Reinhart (1996): Kriegerdenkmäler als Identitätsstiftungen der Überlebenden. In: Odo Marquard und Karlheinz Stierle (Hg.): Identität. 2., unveränd. Aufl. München: Fink (Poetik und Hermeneutik, 8), S. 255 – 276; p. 261f
- Cf. Koselleck, Reinhart (1994): Einleitung. In: Reinhart Koselleck und Michael Jeismann (Hg.): Der politische Totenkult. Kriegerdenkmäler in der Moderne. München: Fink (Bild und Text), S. 9 – 20, here p. 20