Limits and Divisions of Human Histories

A Contemporary Eastern European Perspective on Reinhart Koselleck's Historical Anthropology

The theory of history, as presented by Reinhart Koselleck (1923-2006), offers an intellectually tempting structure of three anthropological distinctions that prescribe figures of all possible histories (individual and collective): sooner or later, inside and outside, above and below. The first one signifies the span between being born and having to die, which makes every life unique and at the same time part of a particular generational experience. It could also be rendered as “old” and “new”. Uses of the second pair might be analysed as a contrast between public and private, or as a contemporary fear stemming from the contrast between “home” and “intruders”. The third pair Andrzej Nowak “translated” not just in “master” and “slave” categories, but rather as “pupil” and “teacher”, or even “therapist” and “patient”. Nowak read Koselleck’s structure in a perspective offered by spatial/temporal concepts of contemporary “Europe in progress” (or “Europe in crisis”), as well as in another, non-political perspective of aesthetic renditions of the three above mentioned Koselleck’s abstract pairs – in Andrzej Wajda’s “Birchwood” movie, the last scene of Richard Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier”, and in Philip Larkin’s poem: “An Arundel Tomb”. The question is whether love can be included into these conflicting pairs as a possible factor transcending their structures?

Andrzej Nowak is Professor of History at Jagiellonian University in Cracow and at the Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Furthermore he is the co-founder of the cultural-political magazine Arcana and since 2016 colegium member of the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) in Poland. He was Józef Tischner Visiting Fellow at the IWM.

Katherine Younger, Director of the Ukraine in European Dialogue Program at the IWM, and Ludger Hagedorn, IWM Permanent Fellow, provided the comments.