Thursday, January 24, 2013

Barth's Nietzschean View of History

I am half way done with Richard E. Burnett's book Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis.  The main reason I am reading this book is because he spends a fair amount of time describing what Barth's reading style (his hermeneutics) is like.  He does this by seeing Barth's Romans (I and II) as breaking from the hermeneutical tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey and also the higher criticism of his contemporaries.

The Eureka moment I had is when Burnett pointed out that Barth quotes (in his unpublished preface to Romans) Nietzsche's book The Use and Abuse of History.   Here is the quote (see page 114):

"You may only interpret the past out of the highest power of the present: only in the strongest efforts of your noblest qualities will you divinize what in the past is great, worth knowing and preserving.  Like through like!    Or else you will pull the past down to yourself!  It is the mature and preeminent man who writes history.  He that has not passed through some greater and nobler experience than his contemporaries will be incapable of interpreting the greatness and nobility of the past. The voices of the past speak in oracles; and only the master of the present and the architect of the future can hope to decipher their meaning."

This helps one of my recent points (which is probably not too original) that Barth follows in the genealogy with Nietzsche's and Burckhardt's school of history.  For these three, they held a skeptical view of the progressive reading of history at the end of the nineteenth century, and they wanted a separation between science (its appeal to objective, detachment) and the other disciplines in the humanities.  Following this quote, Barth appeals to Nietzsche in the way the dynamic between the past and present is important for practicing history; thus, their is no detachment with regard to the past.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Prepping for Spring Semester 2013:On History

I have been away from the blogging game for a few months while I wrapped up Chapter 2 of the dissertation.  Here are a few things I have on my agenda for the coming year:

The relationship between what historians call micro-history and macro-history, social-cultural history and just general trends in historiography.  I am assigning some Jared Diamond and then some Robert Darnton/Natalie Zemon Davis/W. E. B. Du Bois to illustrate some of the differences.  Also, attached to this debate is the role of German historicism and its attention to historical hermeneutics.  I definitely have Burnett's book on Barth's early hermeneutics in mind.  German historicism is a subject that is ill defined especially in the English speaking world, so I plan to read what I can on exactly what was at the heart of this movement and where Barth fits in this world (or how he fights against it).  Some of the figures I want to cover are: Droysen, Rickert, Troeltsch, Dilthey, Meinecke, Cassirer, and Heidegger.

I wrote a lot on Deleuze during my early doctoral seminars, and I am looking to create something out of that research since it is not particularly relevant to my dissertation.  I'm thinking about looking at Fernand Braudel's book On History as a catalyst for comparisons (since Deleuze does refer to Braudel from time to time).  My educated hunch would be both have a view that tries not to favor the anthropocentric viewpoint.  Part of the challenge is to teach World Civilizations as less the struggle of important characters and events, but to look at long periods of time to establish why things changed over time and why some things stayed the same.  In order to do this correctly, some argue, is to downplay the human element.  My first step toward this is to lean on the interpretations of Kenneth Pomeranz and Robert Marks and the popular work of Jared Diamond.

To wrap things up, I want to correlate all this stuff on history and ask how does this translate over to my work at my local church or in theological discourse.

The good thing is that I have spaced out my doctoral work to give me more time to potentially write a journal article or two, be better prepared for lectures and enjoy the birth of my second son!!!