Metahistorical Prefigurations: Toward a Reinterpretation of Hayden White's Tropology

Metahistorické prefigurácie: nová interpretácia tropológie Haydena Whita

In this article, I propose a new interpretation of Hayden White's Metahistory. Instead of treating it as a classical text on historical narrativity, I argue that Metahistory should be read as an inquiry into ‘metahistorical prefigurations', that is, into the moral and ontological presuppositions underlying historical writing. I demonstrate that White's tropes, plots, formal arguments and ideological implications did not primarily refer to linguistic features of historical texts, but to the (metaphysical) views historians hold regarding the nature, goal and purposes of the historical process. Characteristically, only the introduction and the conclusion to Metahistory dealt with ‘narrative prose discourses'; the larger part of the book focused on what Tocqueville, Burckhardt, Croce and others thought about the nature of historical reality and the moral duties of those who study it. Though there is no reason to question that White has made important contributions to what is called the ‘narrativist turn', I argue that Metahistory is seriously misrepresented if it is only regarded as the flagship of narrativism.