Hayden White's Intellectual Biography: An Introduction

Intelektuálna biografia Haydena Whita. Úvod do problematiky

This article is an attempt to represent Hayden White's writing and teaching career in terms of Giambattista Vico's poetic logic and theory of the development of human consciousness, which passes through four distinct stages, proceeding from one to the next by way of turns (tropic transitions). Each stage corresponds to a trope, a kind of shifter: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony. According to this pattern, culural life begins with metaphor and ends with irony, with a final return (ricorso) to metaphor. The article proposes that Hayden White's intellectual biography is defined by two master tropes: metaphor and irony. The latter, more often manifested in public, is related to his practice of science as a profession, while the former constitutes a sort of existential foundation, expressing itself in his practice of science as a vocation, to use Max Weber's phrase.
The text proposes to distinguish the following stages in White's intellectual biography that also helps to follow recent history of the theory of history: 1) the mid-fifties through the sixties ("Collingwood and Toynbee", 1956; "The Burden of History", 1966) are the [stage] of the "generation and ripening" of White's research interests and can be described as a "speculative-idealistic phase" in which he was primarily concerned with questions of intellectual history, the role of historical knowledge in the contemporary world, and the speculative philosophy of history; 2) the seventies (Metahistory, 1973 and Tropics of Discourse, 1978) can be described as "a narrative and tropic phase," characterized by research into the structure of historical narrative, the tropic elements of various kinds of discourse, and their functions; 3) the eighties and early nineties (The Content of the Form, 1987; "Historical Emplotment and the Problem of Truth", 1992) are the "representational stage," defined by inquiry into the relationship between narrative discourse and historical representation. Its governing trope is synecdoche, manifested in the concretization of White's theory, which becomes conceptually tight; 4) the mid-nineties up to the present day (Figural Realism, 1999; "Cosmos, Chaos, and Sequence in Historiological Representation", 1999; debates with Roger Chartier, 1995; Arthur Marwick, 1995; Georg Iggers, 2000 and numerous interviews) can be described as "the ethical and figural phase." White resumes his interest in Auerbach's concept of the figura, its role in historical narrative, the question of figural causality, which he explores in the context of broader reflection on the uses and abuses of history in Western culture, the burden of history, the role of memory and forgetting, as well as ethics and the historian's accountability. White incorporates into his vocabulary such speculative concepts as kairos, crisis, catastrophe, and utopia. This stage marks a return to metaphor. White's recapitulation of his work also concludes the predominance of the narrativist approach in historical theory and prepares the ground for the emergence of new research trends.