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Production of Presence

What Meaning Cannot Convey

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht





This book is dedicated to


whose presence tells me that I am alive,

Stanford Universi ty Press

Stanford, California
2004 by the Board ofTrustees of the
Leland Stanford Junior University
Printed in the United States of Ameri ca

every morning

Librarv of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich.
Production of presence: what meaning caJlnot convey /
Hans Ulrich Gumbrechr.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical referen ces and index.
ISBN 0-8047-4915-9 (doth : alk. paper)
ISBN0-8047-4916-7 (pbk: a1k. paper)


BH30J.E8 g86
l2I' .68---<lC21

2. Experience.

I. Title.


This book is printed on acid-free, archival-guality paper.

Original printing 2004

Last figure below indicates yea r of this printing:

13 12 II

Designed and typeset at Stanford University Press in lllr5 Garamond

User's Manual


This shon book uses a number of more or less "philosophical"

conceprs in an unfamiliar way. Bm ir needs so many pages ro ex
plain why ir does so rhar ir would nor be far from rhe rturh ro say
rhar rhe ongoing explanarion and complexificarion of conceprs is
rhe book's main purpose. In order ro avoid misundersrandings
and rhe subsequenr readerly frusrrarions righr from rhe sran, some
inirial-and very elemenrary-definirions mighr be useful. The
word "presence" does nor refer (ar leasr does nor mainly refer) ro a
remporal bm ro a spa rial relarionship ro rhe world and irs objecrs.
Somerhing rhar is "presenr" is supposed ro be rangible for human
hands, which implies [har, conversely, ir can have an immediare
impacr on human bodies. "Producrion," rhen, is used according ro
rhe meaning of irs erymological roor (i.e., Larin producere) rhar
refers ro rhe acr of "bringing fonh" an objeer in space. The word
"producrion" is nor associared here wirh rhe manufacruring of ar
rifacrs or of indusrrial merchandise. Therefore, "producrion of
presence" poinrs ro all kinds of evenrs and processes in which rhe
impacr rhar "presenr" objecrs have on human bodies is being iniri
ared or inrensified. All objecrs available in "presence" will be called
rhe "rhings of rhe world." Alrhough ir is possible ro claim rhar no
worldly objecr can ever be available, in an unmediared way, ro
human bodies and human minds, rhe concepr "rhings of rhe


User's Manual

world" does include, as a connorarion, a reference ro rhe desire for

such immediacy. There is no need ro consulr linguisric or philo
sophical handbooks in order ro undersrand rhe meaning of rhe
word "meaning" (and of "arrriburion of meaning") in rhe subrirle
and rhroughour rhe chaprers of rhis book. If we arrribure a mean
ing ro a rhing rhar is presenr, rhar is, if we form an idea of whar rhis
rhing may be in relarion ro us, we seem ro arrenuare, inevirably,
rhe impacr rhar rhis rhing can have on our bodies and our senses. Ir
is in rhis sense, roo, rhar rhe word " meraphysics" is used here. In
conrrasr, and alrhough a number of rheological conceprs and mo
rifs are discussed rhroughour rhe following chaprers, rhose mean
ings of "meraphysics" rhar are synonymous wirh "rranscendence"
or "religion" have been avoided. "Meraphysics" refers ro an arri
rude, borh an everyday arrirude and an academic perspecrive, rhar
gives a higher value ro rhe meaning of phenomena rhan ro rheir
marerial presence; rhe word rhus poinrs ro a worldview rhar always
wanrs ro go "beyond" (or "below") rhar which is "physical." Dif

User's Manual


presence-based relarionship ro rhe world. More specifically: ro

make a pledge againsr rhe sysremaric brackering of presence, and
againsr rhe unconresred cenrraliry of inreFprerarion, in rhe aca
demic disciplines rhar we call "rhe humaniries and ans." While
modern (induding conremporary) Wesrern cuirure can be de
scribed as a process of progressive abandonment and forgerring
of presence, some of rhe "special effecrs" produced roday by rhe
mosr advanced communicarion rechnologies may rum our ro be
insrrumenral in reawakening a desire for presence. The sarura
rion of such a desire, however, cannor happen rhrough a simple
replacement of meaning wirh presence. Whar rhis book ulri
marely argues for is a relarion ro rhe rhings of rhe world rhar
could oscillare berween presence effecrs and meaning effecrs.
Presence effecrs, however, exclusively appeal ro rhe senses.
Therefore, rhe reacrions rhar rhey provoke have norhing ro do
wirh Einfiihlung, rhar is, wirh imagining whar is going on in an
orher person's psyche.

ferenr in rhar from "presence," from "producrion," and from rhe

"rhings of rhe world," rhe word "meraphysics " plays rhe role of a


scapegoar in rhe lirde conceprual drama of rhis book. "Meraphys

ics" shares rhis scapegoar posirion wirh orher conceprs and names,

There is no single academic "school" or "school of rhoughr" ro

such as "hermeneurics," "Carresian worldview," "subjecrj objecr

which rhe contenr of rhis book belongs. Ir cerrainly does nor ad

paradigm" al1d, above all, "inrerprerarion." \V'hile such concepr

here ro rhe European rradirion of "hermeneurics" (on rhe con

ual role disrriburions imply a risk of rurning quire obsessive, ir

rrary!), nor is ir an exercise in "deconsrrucrion ," and ir is ar an

should be undersrood rhar rhe book's emphasis on "presence,"

even larger disrance from "culrural srudies" or (God forbid!)

"producrion," and "rhings of rhe world" does nor go as far as ro

"Marxism." No special claims for erhically merirorious values

condemn any modes ofa meaning-based relarionship ro rhe world.

such as "irreverence," "resisrance," or "independence" are made,

however. For rhis book owes more rhan ir can possibly express ro


rhe ideas provoked by rhe work of rwo much admired friends

and colleagues. Irs five chaprers mark a rrajecrory inspired, since

This book seeks ro make a pledge againsr rhe rendency in con

remporary culrure ro abandon and even forger rhe possibiliry of a

rhe 1980s, by Friedrich Kirr!er's discovery of a new sensibilite in

teffectuelle for all kinds of "marerialiries. " This rrajecrory has,





viding ethical onenranon may create, once agam, a greater

tenrial of aesthetic experience, and, if so, we wanred ro let them

awareness of how close ro actual arristic practice some of our

discover which modalities of aesthetic experience they preferred);

academic activities can be. But while I will have ro admit (hat I

secondly, we did not try to argue in favor of aesthetic experience

myself am not able ro live and to exemplifY this potenrial close

by alluding to any values beyond the inrrinsic feeling of inrensiry

ness berween the humanities and the arrs, neither in my own

that it can trigger; and, finally, we wanred to open the range of

professional everyday activities nor through the following, more

potenrial objects of aesthetic experience by transgressing the

detailed illustrations of how I imagine the fields of aesthetics,

canon of their traditional forms (such as "literature," "classical

history, and teaching to develop, I hope that I shall at least man

music," "avanr-garde painring," etc.). This move was carried by


t'T~ rA

IrQ""' '"'" .... ~. r. . I,.. ~ ... l.. . . .

~I ....

:....... L __ L -:-

new proximity. Finally, I

the conviction that, today, the field where aesthetic experience

TS of this chapter will not

actually takes place must be far more extended than what the

conceptual developmenr

concept" aesthetic experience" covers.

My first more personal concern for this class was to be a good

sthetics. This is because I

)ntam cerram arguments

enough teacher to evoke for my studenrs and to make them feel

eptions of historicization

specific moments ofintensity that I remember with fondness and

ld simply be the case be

mostly with nostalgia-even if, in some cases, this intensity was

'ied to produce a written

painful when it actually happened. I wanred my studenrs ro

whereas I have already

know, for example, the almost excessive, exuberanr sweetness

::>ry and of teaching.;

that sometimes overcomes me when a Mozarr aria grows inro

polyphonic complexity and when I indeed believe that I can hear

When, a few years ago, a young colleague from the musicology

the rones of the oboe on my skin. I wanr my studenrs ro live or at

least ro imagine that momenr of admiration (and perhaps also of

departmenr at Stanford and I were invited to teach an obligarory

the despair of an aging man) that gets a hold of me when I see

"Introduction ro the Humanities" course for about two hundred

the beautiful body of a young woman standing next ro me in

students of the incoming freshman class, and when we had first

decided on the general topic and task of exposing our prospective
studenrs ro differenr rypes of aesthetic experience," three implica
tions were uncontroversial between us right from the starr. We
JUSt wanred ro poinr ro differenr modalities of enjoying beautiful
things, without making aesthetic experience an obligation for
our studenrs (in other words, we wanred ro offer them an op
portuniry to find Out whether they reacted positively to the po

fronr of one of the computers that give access ro our library

catalogue-a momenr, by the way, that is not all that differenr
from the joy that I feel when the quarterback of my favorite col
lege team in American football (Stanford Cardinal of course)
stretches out his perfectly sculpted arms ro celebrate a rouch
down pass. Quire naturally, I also wanr all of my studenrs ro feel
the elation, the suddenly very deep breathing and the embar
rassingly wet eyes with which I must have reacted ro that very


Epi phany/P resen ri ficarion/Deixis



beautifully executed pass and to the swift movement of the wide

many and mostly frustrating moments of loss and of separa

receiver who caught it. I hope that some of my students will suf

tion-that there is no reliable, no guaranteed way g[.prQdllcing

fer through that sentiment of intense depression and perhaps

moments of intensity, and that we have even less hope of holding

even of humiliation that I know from reading "Pequeno vats

on to them or extending their duration. Indeed, I cannot be sure,

vienes, " my favorite po~m in Federico Garda Lorca's Poeta en

before I hear my favorite Mozan aria, whether that exuber{' nt

Nueva York, a text that makes the reader intuit how the life of a

sweetness will overcome my body again. It might happen-but I

homosexual man was emotionally and even physically amputated

know and I already anticipate my reaction of regret about this

in 'X1estern societies around 1930. My students should get at least

experience-that it will only happen for a moment (if it should

a glimpse of that illusion of lethal empowerment and violence, as

happen at all).

if I (of all people!) were an ancient god, which permeates my

body at the moment of the estocada final in a Spanish bullfight,

when the bullfighter's sword silently cuts thro~gh the body of

But how is it possible thar we long for such moments of intensity

the bull, and the bull's muscles seem to stiffen for a moment

although they have no edifying contents or effects to offer? Why

before its massive body breaks down like a house shaken by an

do we sometimes remember them as happy moments and some

earthquake. I want my students to join in that promise of an

times as sad moments-but always with a feeling of loss or of

endlessly and eternally qUliet world that sometimes seems to

nostalgia? This is the second question that I want

surround me when I get lost in front of a painting by Edward

the question ofthe specific appeal that such moments hold for us,

Hopper. I hope they experience the explosion of tasty nuances

the question about the reasons that motivate us to seek aesthetic

that comes with the first bite of great food. And I want them to

experience and to expose our bodies and minds to its potential.

know the feeling of having found the right place for one's body

Without going into any detail yet, my opening hypothesis is that

with which a perfectly designed building can embrace and wel

come us.

what we call" aesthetic experience" always provides us with cer


deal with,

tain feelings of ilHensity that we cannot find in the historically

There is nothing edifying in such moments, no message,

and culturally specific evetyday worlds that we inhabit. This is

nothing that we could really learn from them-and this is why I

why, seen from a historical or from a sociological perspective.

like to refer to them as "moments of intensity." For what we feel

aesthetic experience can indeed function as a symptom of th e

is probably not more than a specifically high level in the func

preconscious needs and desires that belong to specific societies.

tioning of some of our general cognitive, emotional, and perhaps

But I do not want to equate the motivational power of sllch de

even physical faculties. The difference that these moments make

sires, which may draw us into situations of aesthetic experience,

seems to be based in quantity. And I like to combine the quan

on [he one hand, with the interpretation and understanding or

titative concept of "intensity" with the meaning of temporal

that motivational power as based in preconscious desires, on the

fragmentation in the word "moments" because I know-from

other. In other words, I do nOt believe that such interpretations

Ep iphany/ Presen tificationl Deixis




and the higher degree of self-reflexivity that might follow from

to imagine future intellectual practices for the humanities and

them should be considered a part of aesthetic experience. For the

arcs. For it is my impression that if those forms of reaction and of

same reason, I prefer to speak, as often as possible, of "moments

reception undergo profound changes at all, the pace of such

of intensity" or of "lived experience" (asthetisches Erleben) instead

transformations must be much slower than the pace at which the

of saying "aesthetic experience" (asthetische Erfohrung)-because

objects of aesthetic experience are changing. Wh<fr I have said so

most philosophical traditions associate the concept of "ex

far implies, in addition , that we shall not-and perhaps should

perience" with interpretation, that is , with acts of meaning attri

not- limit our analysis of aesthetic experience to the side of the

bution. When I use the concepts Erleben or "lived experience,"

recipient and to the mental (and perhaps also physical) invest

in contrast, I mean them in the strict sense of the phenomenol

ments that he (or she) may make. For it appears that these in

ogical tradition, namely, as a being focused upon, as a thema

vestments and their yield will depend, at least pardy, on the ob

tizing of, certain objects of lived experience (objects that offer

jects of fascination by which they are first activated and evoked .

specific degrees of intensity under our own cultural conditions

This is one of the reasons why it matters, for a general descrip

whenever we call them "aesthetic"). Lived experience or ErLeben

tion of aesthetic experience, to deal with these objects

presupposes that purely physical perception (Wahl72 ehmung) has

although, perhaps, the comparatively fast pace of their historical

already taken place, on the one hand, and that it will be followed

transformation makes them resistant to integration into any gen

by experience (E1fohrung) as the result of acts of world interpre

eral theory.

tation, on the other.

Now, if what fascinates us in moments of aesthetic experi


without being accompanied by a clear

If aesthetic experience is always evoked by and if it always refers

awareness of the reasons for this attraction, is always something

to moments of intensity that cannot be part of the respective ev

that our everyday worlds are not capable of offering us; and if we

eryday worlds in which it takes place, then it follows that aes

further presuppose that our everyday worlds are historically and

thetic experience will be necessarily located at a certain distance

culturally specific, then it follows that the objects of aesthetic ex

from these everyday worlds. This very obvious conclusion brings

perience, toO, must be culturally specific. Regarding the other

us to a third layer in the analysis of aesthetic experience, namely,

side of the situation whose structures I try to describe, it is not

to the situational fi'mnework within which it typically occurs. As a

clear to me whether, for the readers, spectators, and listeners who

central feature of this situational framework, the distance be

are attracted by those historically specific objects of aestheti c ex

tween aesthetic experience and everyday worlds is one possible

perience, we have to presuppose a corresponding historicity in

reference for the explanation of the double isolation inherent in

their forms of aesthetic experience. But I do not believe that it is

all moments of aesthetic intensity, and this is the double iso

absolutely necessary to resolve [his very large question as long as

lation that Karl Heinz Bohrer has so impressively described I

we are dealing with aesthetic experience in the context of trying

through the concepts of "suddenness" and "farewell. " There is,

ence, ' if what attracts



Ep iphan yIPrcsen ri fica rio n/De ixis



on the one hand, no systematic, no pedagogically guaranteed

mately dilute it. Whenever conveying or exemplifYing an ethical

way of leading students (or other vicrims of good pedagogical

message is supposed to be the main function of a work of art, we

intentions) " roward" aesthetic experience; on the other hand,

need to ask-and indeed the question cannot be eliminated

there is no predictable, obvious or typical yield that aesthetic ex

whether it would not be more efficient to aniculate that same

perience can add ro our lives' in the everyday worlds. For the gen

ethical message in rather straightforward at d explicit concepts

eral description of this situational condition, I want ro use the

and forms.

concept of "insulariry" that Mikhail Bakhtin has developed in

his analysis of the culture of carnival. For "insulariry" seems ro

carry less hisrorically specific connotations than the concept of

My fourth reflecrion refers to a specific disposition that I believe

"aesthetic auronomy"-in which the distance from the everyday

goes along, quite regularly, with the suucrural condition

is already interpreted as a gain of subjective independence. I

"insularity." There are twO principal ways of entering situations

therefore propose ro reserve the name "aesthetic auronomy" for

of insulariry. The more dramatic one (so to speak) is the modal

the specific forms that the general structural condition of "insu

ity of being caught by "imposed upon relevance" (auferLegte ReLe

lariry" developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centu

vanz) .'u There, the sudden appearance of certain objecrs of per

ries. This, of course, assumes that the insularity of aesthetic expe

ception diverrs our attention from ongoing everyday routines

rience existed long before the eighteenth century and that it also

and indeed temporarily separates us from them. Nature turned

has a place ourside Western culture.

into an event often fulfills this function: think of lightning,

The most imponant consequence that follows from the insu

above all, the first lightning in a thunderstorm, or remember the

lariry of aesthetic experience is the incommensurability berween

aggressive sunlight that almost blinds you when, coming from

aesthetic experience and the institutional propagation of ethical

central Europe, you deplane at any Californian destination.

norms-and this seems ro be a cenual issue in Bohrer's reflection

Charles Baudelaire's poem

on "aesthetic negativiry" roo." For ethical norms are-and

of the imposed upon relevance of a female body that catches and

should be-pan of hisrorically specific everyday worlds, whereas

almost overwhelms the idle flaneur's attention. Such eventness is

we have postulated that aesthetic experience draws its fascination

cerrainly different from a classroom situation where we try to fa

(in the literal sense of the word) from offering moments of inten

cilitate the happening of aesthetic appearance, although fully

"A une

passante" is a literary staging

siry that cannot be a pan of specific everyday worlds. It therefore

aware that no pedagogical effort wilt ever guarantee the coming

makes sense ro say that the combination of aesthetics with ethics,

of the actual experience. But we can point to the presence of

that is, the projection of ethical norms on ro the potential objecrs

certain objecrs of experience and invite our students to be com

of aesthetic experience, will inevitably lead ro the erosion of the

posed, " that is, to be both open and concentrated, without let

potential intensiry of the latter. In other words, ro adapt aesthetic

ting such concentration harden into the tension of an effort.

intensiry to ethical requirements means ro normalize and ulti

The best description that I know for the moment when the


Ep i phany/Prescn tifica tio n/Deixis



composed disposition that prepares us for the happening of aes

second reflection, it is clear that whatever features we may iden

thetic experience turns into actual aesthetic experience comes

tifY in the object of aesthetic experience, the StatuS of our an

from an athlete. It was the answer that Pablo Morales, an Olym

swers will be historically specific-even if, on the side of experi

pic gold medalist in swimming, gave to the question of why, af

ence, the pace of historical transformati Qn may be extremely

ter having retired from competitive spons, he had come back to

slow. In searching for the always more or less hidden desire that

qualifY for the Olympics again and to win yet another gold

could motivate us to transcend our contemporary everyday

medal. Without hesitation, Morales replied that he had made

worlds (which, of course, also means that we are looking for ev

this astonishing effort because he was addicted to the feeling of

eryday phenomena and conditions with which we are overly

"being lost in focused intensiry."" His choice of the word

saturated), I do not know of a more convincing answer than the

"intensiry" confirms that the difference that aesthetic experience

one given by Jean-Luc Nancy in his book The Birth to Presence,

makes is, above all, a difference of quantiry: extreme challenges

,in the opening pages of which he argues that there is nothing we

produce extreme levels of performance in our minds and our

find more tiresome today than the production of yet another nu

bodies. That Morales wanted to be "lost" corresponds to the

ance of meaning, of JUSt "a little more sense." u What in contrast

structural element of insulariry, to the element of distance vis-a

we miss in a world so saturated with meaning, and what there

vis the everyday world that belongs ro the situation of aesthetic

fore [Urns into a primary object of (not fully conscious) desire in

experience. Finally, Morales called the intensiry that amacts him

our culture, are-very unsurprisingly by now, in the context

"focused"-which seems to indicate that the disposition of com

my book, I admit (and I hope)-phenomena and impressions

posed openness anticipates the energizing presence of an object


of experience to come. Now, what Morales was talking about

Presence and meaning always appear together, however, and

was the challenge of participating in athletic competition on a

are always in tension. There is no way of making them compati

world-class level. Some people might have reservations about

ble or of bringing them together in one "well-balanced" phe

subsuming such situations of competition under a concept of

nomenal structure. I do not want to go into a comparison and

"aesthetic experience." But even then the question remains of

detailed discussion of different philosophical definitions of

what general features we can identifY in those objects of experi

"meaning" and/or "sense" (there always seem to be too many of

ence-aesthetic or not-that attract us and push us to the state

them anyway)-but I understand that what makes meaning,

of being lost in focused intensiry.

that is, the awareness of a choice that has taken place (or the
awareness of possible alternatives to what has been chosen), is

the very dimension of consciousness that is denied by the type of

fifth question, and perhaps the most obvi

physical presence for which we are longing, or that simply does

ously relevant, the decisive question in this context: wiJat is it

not come into play. That glaring sunlight or that lightning,

that fascinates us in the objects of aesthetic experience? From our

when they hit me, are not experienced as "the other" of a less

This precisely is my





luminous day or of thunder. Typologically speaking, the dimen

,q uestion regarding rhe specific fearures rhar mark rhe objecrs of

sion of meaning is dom inant in Carresian worlds, in worlds for

aesrheric experience is, rhen,

which consciousness (the awareness of atrerna~ives) constirutes

rience (and here ir becomes imponant, once again, ro insisr rh a


say rhar objecrs of aesrheric expe

the core of human self-reference. And are we not precisely long

I am speaking of "lived experience," of ErLeben) are characterize

ing for presence, is ~ur desire for tangibiliry not so intense

by an 05ci11arion berween presence effecrs and meaning effecrs

because our own everyday environment is so almOSt insuperably

While ir may be rrue, in principle, rhar all of our (human) rela

consciousness-centered? Rather than having

tionships ro rhe rhings of rhe world musr be borh meaning- an


think, always and

endlessly, what else there could be, we sometimes seem



presence-based relarions, I sri11 claim rhar, under contem pora

nect with a layer in our existence that simply wants the things of

culrural conditions, we need a specific framework (namely, rh

rhe world close

siruarion of "insulariry" and rhe disposirion of "focused inten


our skin.

Now Jean-Luc Nancy does nor only (and simply) point ro rhis

siry") in order ro really experience (erLeben) rhe producrive ren

very layer of a desire for presence rhar reacrs ro specific condi

sion, rhe osci11arion berween meaning and presence-ins read

rions in our contemporary culrure. He also observes-and rhis

jusr bracketing rhe presence side, as we seem

indeed is why he emphasizes rhe double movement of a "birrh


maica11y, in our so very Canesian everyday lives. I rhink (and I

presence" and a "vanishing of presence"-rhar those presence

hope, of course) rhar my rhesis abour rhe osci11arion berween

effecrs rhar we can live are always already permeared wirh ab'

presence effecrs and meaning effecrs is close ro whar Hans-Georg

sence. From an only slighrly different conceprual angle, we could

Gadamer meant when he emphasized rhar, in addirion ro rheir

rephrase Nancy's point by saying rhar, for us, presence phenom

apophantic dimension, rhat is, in addirion [0 the dimension that

ena cannor help being inevirably ephemeral, cannor help being

can and must be redeemed through interpretation, poems have a

whar I call "effecrs of' presence-because we can only encounter

"volume"-a dimension, that is, that demands our voice, that

rhem wirhin a culrure rhar is predominandy a meaning culrure.


For us, presence phenomena afways come as " presence effecrs"

conclusion converges wirh Niklas Luhmann's thesis according [0

because rhey are necessarily surrounded by, wrapped into, and

which the "arr system" is the only social system in which percep

perhaps even media red by clouds and cushions of meaning. Ir is

tion (in rhe phenomenological meaning of a human relationship

exuemely difficulr-if nor impossible-for us not ro "read," nor


rry and amibure meaning


thar lighming or


rhat glaring

California sunlighr. This may well have been rhe reason why



do, quire au[O

be "sung."' ~ I also suppose (and again hope) that my

[0 the world media red by the senses) is not only a precondition

of system-intrinsic communication but also, [Ogether with
meaning, parr of what this communication carries.';

Heidegger became so obsessed wirh (and so conceprua11y entan

What Luhmann highlighrs as a specific fearure of the an sys

gled in) rhe dupliciry of and rhe relarionship berween "eanh"

tem is a simultaneity of meaning and perception, of meaning ef

and "world" in his essay "The Origin of rhe Work of Arr." My

fects and presence effects-and if this is nor [00 much of a sub

own (modesr) reacrion

jecr-centered perspecrive [0 be applied [0 Luhmann's philosophy,


rhese observarions, my answer



Ep i phan yIP resen ti fication/ Deixis

I would venture


say [hac. what he found


be specific



Epiphany/ Presentification/Deix is

ever wants



execute the very complex steps of the tango, that

experience (erleben)

is, the forms of a dance whose female and male choreographies

meaning effects and presence effects in simultaneiry. Whenever

are never coordinated before the acrual performance begins. In

it presents itself (Q us, we may live this simultaneiry as a tension

other words-and this is an exact example

or as an oscillation. Essent'ial is the point that, within this spe

I speak of a "tension" or an "oscillation" berween presence ef

art system may well be the possibiliry


of what

I mean when'

cific constellation, meaning will not bracket, will not make the

fects and meaning effects: whoever tries

presence effects disappear, and that the-un bracketed-physical

complexiry that makes tango lyrics so melancholic, will deprive

presence of things (of a text, of a voice, of a canvas with colors, of

herself of the full pleasure that may come from a fusion between

a play performed by a team) will not ultimately repress the

the tango movement and her body. And as I have no specifi

meaning dimension . Nor is the relation between presence effects

interest in arguing for a dominance of presence effects ove

and meaning effects a relation of complementarity, in which a

meaning effects, it may be good

capture the semanti

emphasize that the opposit

the other would give

is also true: while they are dancing, even the most perfect tango

the co-presence of the rwo sides the stabiliry of a structural pat

performers cannot fully grasp the semantic complexiry of tango

tern. Rather, we can say that the tension/oscillation berween


function assigned


each side in relation




presence effects and meaning effects endows the object of aes

In saying that every human contact with the things of the

thetic experience with a component of provocative instabiJiry

world contains both a meaning- and a presence-component, and

and unrest.

that the siruation of aesthetic experience is specific inasmuch as

There is a rule, a prescription, a convention in Argentinian

culture that very beautifully illustrates why I am emphasizing so

it allows us
not mean



live both these components in their tension, I do '

imply that the relative weight of these rwo compo

much this noncomplementariry in the relationship between

nents will always be equal. On the contrary, I assume that there

presence effects and meaning effects. If, In Argentina, you are not

are always specific distributions between the meaning-compo


dance a tango that has lyrics-although the often

nent and the presence-component-which depend on the mate

striking literary qualiry of tango lyrics has long constiruted an

riality (i.e., on the mediatic modaliry) of each object of aesthetic

object of legitimate cui rural pride. The rationality behind this

experience. For example, the meaning-dimension will always be

be that, within a nonbalanced situation of

dominant when we are reading a text-but"iiterary texts have

simultaneity berween meaning effects and presence effects, pay

ways of also bringing the presence-dimension of the typography,

ing attention

the lyrics of a tango would make it very difficult

of the rhythm of language, and even of the smell of paper into

follow the rhythm of the music with one's body; and such di

play. Conversely, I believe that the presence dimension will al


convention seems




vided attention would probably make it next


impossible that

ways dominate when we are listening


music-and at the same

one let go, that one-quite Iiterally-"Iet fall " one's body into

time it is true that certain musical structures can evoke certain

the rhythm of this music, which is certainly necessary for who

semantic connotations. But however minimal the participation



Epiphany/Presenrificarion/Oei xis


of one or rhe other dimension may become under specific me

analyze the traces of this desire for presence, in their environ

diatic conditions, I think that aesthetic experience-at least in

ment charged with meaning, are also pardy meaning- and partlv

our culrure-will always confront us with the tension, or oscil


lation, between presence and meaning. This is the reason why an

exclusively semiotic (in my terminology, exclusively metaphysi

cal) concept of the sign cannot do justice to aesthetic experience.

I shall now concentrate, as a sixth step of my argument, on th

We need, on the one hand, a semiotic sign-concept to describe

specific mode in which the oscillafion between presence effect

and to analyze its meaning-dimension. But, on the other hand,

and meaning effects presents itself to us in situations of aestheti

we also need a different sign-concept-the Aristotelian coupling

experience. Epiphany is the notion that I want to use and unfol

of "substance" and "form," for example-for the presence

in this context. ' 7 By "epiphany," I am not referring again to th

dimension in aesthetic experience. And if it is true, as I have ar

simultaneiry, tension, and osciNation between meaning and pres

gued, that the two dimensions will never grow into a stable

ence but, above all, to the feeling, mentioned and theorized b

strucrure of complementariry, then we must understand that it is

Jean-Luc Nancy, that we cannor hold on to those presence ef.

nor only unnecessary but indeed analytically counterproductive

fects, that they-and with them the simultaneity between pres

to try and develop a combination, a complex metaconcept fusing

ence and meaning- are ephemeral. tvlore precisely, I want to

the semioric and nonsemioric definitions of the sign.

comment, under the heading of "epiphany," on three features

One might object that this juxtaposition of twO rypes of sign

that shape the way in which the tension between presence and

concepts that will not be brought together in a semantic struc

meaning presents itself to us: on the impression that the tension

ture of higher complexity is a symptom offailure; more precisely,

between presence and meaning, when it occurs, comes out of

one could say that it proves that we have not yet really overcome

nothing; on the emergence of this tension as having a spatial ar

the ontological duplicity characteristic of metaphysics. From a

ticulation; on the possibility of describing its temporality as an

certain perspective, from the perspective of a truly new episte

" event. "

mology, for which we may long, I have no major objection to

If we assume (as indeed I have) that there is no aesthetic expe

such an objection. On the other hand, however, my answer to

rience without a presence effect, and no presence effect without

the question of what it is that fascinates us in siruations of aes

substance in play; if we further assume that a substance in order

thetic experience was meant to be a historically specific answer.

to be perceived needs a form; and if we finally assume (as I also

The desire for presence that] have invoked is a reaction to an

have in the previous reflection) that the presence-component in

overly Cartesian, historically specific everyday world that we at

the tension or oscillation that constiru tes aesthetic experience can

least sometimes wish to overcome. It is thus neither surprising

never be held stable, then it follows that whenever an object of

nor embarrassing that in this context-that is, in our own his

aesthetic experience emerges and momentarily produces in us

torical siruation-the conceptual tools with which we try to

that feeling of intensity, it seems to come out of nothing. For no





such substance and form were present to us before. With certain

the central element of the performance. All actors come

ontological implications that I find fascinating but that one does

stage across a bridge that cuts through the audience, and as a

not necessarily have to accept in order to agree with his descrip

complicated choreography of steps back ~ n d forth, this coming

tion, Heidegger makes e~actly this point: "Art then is the becom


ing and happening of truth. Does truth , then, arise Out of noth

among the spectators) than the actOrs' actual play on the stage.

ing? It does indeed if by nothing is meant the mere not of that



the stage often occupies more time (and more attention

Finally, there are three aspects that give the epiphany-com

which is, and if we here think of that which is as an object pres

ponent within aesthetic experience the status of an event. In th

ent in the ordinary way. " 's

first place (and I have already mentioned this condition earlie

As that which seems to emerge out of nothing has a substance

on), we never know whether or when such an epiphany will oc

and a form, it is unavoidable for its epiphany to require a spatial

cur. Secondly, if it occurs, we do not know what form it will tak

dimension (or at least an impression thereof). This is another

and how intense it will be: there are no twO bolts of lightning,

motif in Heidegger's "Origin of the Work of Art," mainly devel

indeed, that have the same form and no two orchestra perform

oped in relation

ances that will interpret the same score in exactly the same way .


the concept "earth" and in the famous pas

sage about the Greek temple: "The temple's firm towering makes

Finally (and above all), epiphany within aesthetic experience is

visible the invisible space of the air. The steadfastness of the

an event because it undoes itself while it emerges. This is obvi

work contrasts with the surge of the surf, and its own repose

ous, up

brings out the raging of the sea. Tree and grass, eagle and bull,

but I think it also holds true for our reading of literature and

snake and cricket first enter intO their distinctive shapes and

even for out reactions

come to appear as what they are. The Greeks called this emerg

and no single impression of a rhythm pattern, for example, is

ing and rising in itself and in all things phusis. It dears and illu

ever present for more than a moment in the actual reading or


the point of being banal, for lightning or for music,


a painting. No single meaning structu re

minates, also, that on which and in which man bases his dwell

listening process; and I think that, similarly, the temporaliry un

ing. We call this ground the earth."' Within Western culture,

der which a painting can really "hit" us, the temporaliry in

we find a particular sense of this spatial dimension of epiphany

which we feel, for example, that it comes tOward us , will always

in Calderon's drama, specifically in the genre of the auto sacra

be the temporality of a moment. There is perhaps no other phe

mental whose performance was reserved

the day of Corpus

nomenon that illustrates this eventness of aesthetic epiphany

Christi, the Church holiday that celebrates the Eucharist. Cal

better than beautiful play in a team sport. '" A beautiful play in

deron 's scenographic instructions abound with disposiEions for

American football and baseball, in soccer and hockey, that one

material forms to "emerge," to "rise," or to "vanish," and for

element on whose fascination all expert fans can agree , inde

bodies to "come dose" to the spectatOrs and then to "recede."

pendently of the victOry or defeat of the team for which they are

Likewise, in No and Kabuki, the traditional staging forms of

rooting, is the epiphany of a complex and embodied form . As an

Japanese theater, the spatial dimension of epiphany seems to be

epiphany, a beautiful play is always an event: for we can never


Ep iphanyIP resc n[i fica[ionl Deixis


Epi phanyl P resemifica[io n/Deixis



predier whether or when it will emerge; if it emerges, we do not

a critique would be that there is a difference between labeling an

know what it will look like (even if, retrospectively, we are able

act of violence as "beautiful" (this might well be a way of "aes

to discover similarities with beautiful plays that we have seen be

theticizing" violence) and postulating that violence is one of the

fore); and it undoes itself, quite literally, as it is emerging. No

components of aesthetic experience. I am not simply saying that

single phorograph could ever capture a beautiful play.

"violence is beautiful" (it can be beautiful, but it is not beautiful

in principle), and I exclude any necessary convergence between

aesthetic experience and ethical norms. Subsuming certain phe

For some readers at least, my seventh question will follow quite

nomena under the heading of "aesthetic experience" will there

naturally, after the brief reference to team sports. It is the ques

fore not interfere with any negative ethical judgment on their

tion of whether aesthetic epiphany, the way I have now tried ro

behalf. Seen from this perspective, then, my main response to the

describe it, necessarily involves an element of violence. For other

objection that I might be promoting the "aestheticization of

readers, at least for those who do not watch sports, I should ex

violence" is that, by insisting on a definition of aesthetics that

plain this question by specifying what exactly I mean by "vio

excludes violence, we would not only eliminate warfare, the de

lence." My question presupposes two presence-based definitions

struerion of buildings, and traffic accidents but also phenomena

of "power" and of "violence" that I launched in the last part of

such as American football, boxing, or the ritual of bullfighting.

the previous chapter. I had proposed to define "power" as the

Allowing the association of aesthetic experience with violence, in

potential of occupying or of blocking spaces with bodies, and

contrast, helps us understand why certain phenomena and events

"violence" as the acrualization of power, that is, power as per

rum out to be so irresistibly fascinating for us-although we

formance or as event. Referring back to our discussion of the

know that, at least in some of these cases, such "beauty" accom

epiphanic character of aesthetic experience, and according to [he

panies the destruction of lives.

observation that epiphany always implies the emergence of a

Even in those forms of aesthetic experience, however, where

substance and, more specifically, the emergence of a substance

from a strictly physical point of view-the effect of violence is

that seems ro come out of nothing, we may indeed posrulate that

but an illusion because there is neither substance nor three

there can be no epiphany and, as a consequence, no genuinely

dimensional space in play (for example, when we get addicted to

aesthetic experience without a moment of violence-because

the "rhythm" of a prose text that we read silently," or when

there is no aesthetic experience without epiphany, that is, with

painting "catches" our attention) , we know that their effect on

out the event of substance occupying space.

us can still be "violent," almost in the sense of our initial defini

But will this conclusion not inevitably provoke the politically

tion, that is, in the sense of occupying and thus blocking our

correct objection that by such an "aestheticization of violence,"

bodies. It is surely possible to develop an addiction to a certain

we are contributing to its possible legitimation? Can aesthetics

type of text (not only for its semantic layers) and to suffer from

and violence go together at all? The first, obvious answer to such

it; and there are certain pictures that some of us need to see over


Ep iP hany/P resen rificario nl Deixis


Epiphany/Presen ri ficarion l Deixis


and again-however diffi~ult and expensive this may turn out co

part of the world of things, may end up taking

be. After all, aesthetic experience has long been associated with

from Poeta en Nueva York, for example, ' Lorca makes fun of all

welcoming the risk of losing control over oneself-at least tem

the humans (and even of all the animals) whom he sees trying so


ambitiously co be something different from what they are. Only

US .

In "Muerte"

the plaster arch, he writes at the end, is what it is-and somehow


happily so: "But the plaster arch, / how vast, how invisible, how

My eighth question has everything to do with this feeling of los

minute, / without even trying!" The existentialist thought that

ing control. If there is nothing edifying in aesthetic experience,

Lorca's poem suggests is obvious: only our death, only the mo

nothing positive to be learnt, what is the effect of gerting lost in

ment in which we become pure marter (and nothing but mat

the fascination that the oscillation between presence effects and

ter), will truly fulfIll our integration inw the world of things .

meaning effects can produce? Once we understand our desire for

Only our death will give us that perfect quiet for which

presence as a reaction to an everyday environment that has be

sometimes in our lives at least-we long.

come so overly Cartesian during the past centuries, it makes

What this answer co the question about the effect of aesthetic

sense co hope that aesthetic experience may help us recuperate

experience is pointing co can also be described as an extreme de

the spatial and the bodily dimension of our existen'ce; it makes

gree of serenity, composure, or Geltmenheit. Geiassenheit figures

sense to hope that aesthetic experience may give us back at least a

as both part of the disposition with which we should open our

feeling of OUF being-in-the-world, in the sense of being part of

selves co aesthetic experience and as the existential state to which

the physical world of things. But we should immediately add

aesthetic experience can take us. In order to avoid any possible

that this feeling, at least in our culture, will never have the status

confusion of this existential state with certain hypercomplex

of a permanent conquest. Therefore, it may be more adequate to

forms of self-reflexivity (of which we intellectuals are only

formulate, conversely, that aesthetic experience can prevent us

fond), I have come to describe, with a deliberately colloquial

from completely losing a feeling or a remembrance of the physi

formula, that specifIC serenity as the feeling of being in sync with



cal dimension in our lives. Using a Heideggerian intuition once

the things ofthe world. What I mean by "being in sync with the

again, we can establish a categorical difference between this re

things of the world" is not synonymous with a world picture of

cuperated dimension of self-reference, the self-reference of being

perfect (or perhaps even eternal) harmony. 2' Rather .chan corre

a part of the world of things, and that other human self-reference

sponding to an ideal cosmology, the expression "in sync" refers

that has been dominant in modern Western culture, above all, in

to a situation that is very specific to our contemporary culture,

modern science: the larter is the self-image of a spectator stand

ing in front of a world that presents itself as a picture. n

what "the things of the world" might be. This may be exactly

Some of Federico Garda Lorca's poems give their readers an

what, from an existential point of view, the self-unconcealment

impression of where the opposite self-reference, that of being

of Being is all about-self-unconcealment in general and not

that is, co the impression of having just recuperated a glimpse of


Ep iphany/P resen [ifica[ion/Deix is



only self-unconcealmem as aesthetic epiphany. Experiencing (in

Middle Ages, every action and every event from the past were

the sense of ErI-eben, that is, more than Wahrnehmen and less

considered to be potential orientations for the shaping of the pre

than Erfohren), experiencing the things of the world in their pre

sent and the future-because the human world was not yet be

conceptual thingness will reactivate a feeling for the bodily and


for the spatial dimension of our existence.

rative about the past that people believed ro be true could be


be in permanent transformation. Therefore, every nar

Coming back ro some of the classical concepts of philosophi

turned into an "example." Renaissance culture, in- contrast,

cal aesthetics, we can say that unconcealment of Being may hap

would only take into account, very schematically speaking, "half

pen both in the modaliry of the beautiful and in the modaliry of

of its past" for the orientation of the present. The humanists of

the sublime; we may say that it can transpon us inro a state of

the carly modern centuries were hoping to find "examples" of

Apollonian clariry or of Dionysian rapture. Independenrly of

relevance for their own lives in Greek and Roman amiquiry

these (otherwise crucial) distinctions, I believe that we are al

but not in the immediately preceding medieval world (which

ways-deliberately or unknowingly-referring ro epiphanies

they were the first to describe as "dark"). From the late seven

when, in our specific cultural situation, we use the word "aes

teenth through the eighteemh centuries, a time construction

thetic." We are referring, with this word,

epiphanies that, for

emerged that we have since come to call "historical time," and

moments at least, make us dream, make us long for, and make us

that established itself so firmly that, until recently, we tended to

perhaps even remember, with our bodies as well as with our

take it as the only possible chronotope. Historical time set the


minds, how good it would be ro live in sync with the things of

bar for "learning from the past" dramatically higher. For it im

the ,,,orld.

plied the need to identify the "laws" that had informed historical
change in thc past and to extrapolate their movement into the

future if one wanted to anticipatc the developments to come. But

Now while humanists during the past two centuries have been
mostly vague-and often even proud of their vagueness
whenever the question of what things of beaury might be good
for came up, the practical usefulness of the study of the past has
never been seriously doubted. The vcry concept of "history" is
indeed inseparable from the promise that, once studied, the past
can be "a teacher of life" (historia magistra vitae).26 It is easy

even this very costly (and, as Marxists used to say, very

"scientific") way of learning from the past did not survive our
present-day skepticism. The latest developmem is not that we
reject any prognostication of the future as being absolutely im
possible. Rather, we anticipate it to be so complicated (and so
costly) that we prefer to perform calculations of risk,'7 that is, we
prefer to figure out how expensive it would be for us if cerrain


show, however, how the price attached to this expectation has

been growing so dramatically over the past few centuries of
Western culture that, today, there is nothing more left of this
expectation than some stale Sunday morning rheroric. In the

developments that we expect to happen do not come about.

Once we know the price, we can buy insurance-instead of try
ing to gain ultimate cenainty about what the future will bring.
Another way of viewing thc same development is to reevaluate



Epi phany/P resen rificationl Deixis


the good old debate about whether our present is (still) "mod

the past and reproductions based on such artifacts. Proofs are the

ern" or (already) "postmodern," which generated so much intel

subsequent waves of "nostalgia cultures," the unprecedented

lectual excitement only ten years ago. Today, we begin to under

popularity and the new exhibiting styles of our museums, and

stand that those discussions ~ere a symptom of the chronotope

the debates about the inability of societies to exist without his

of "historical time" coming to an end and that, regardless of

torical memory that are so particularly intense in Europe these

whether we want to call our present "modern" or "postmodern,"

days. Berween the "new" inaccessible future and the new past

this process of exiting historical time now seems to lie behind

that we no longer (want to) leave behind ourselves, we have be



"Historical time" (and our concept of "history," which re

fers to a specific historical culture whose historicity we have only

gun to feel that the present is becoming broader and that the
rhythm of time is slowing down.

recently come to recognize) was based on the assumption of an

But what has this development (provided that mine is a plau

asymmetry between the past as a "space of experience" and the

sible account of our contemporary historical culture), what has

future as an open "horizon of expectations." Historical time im

all of this to do with the concept of "presence" and its possible

plied the assumption that things would not resist change in time

impact on our ways of teaching history and doing historical re

but that, while the present and the future could not help being

search? One possible answer is based on the impression that our

different from the past and while we were therefore constantly

eagerness to fill up the ever-broadening present with artifacts

leaving the past behind ourselves, there was a way to "learn from

from the past has little, if anything to do with the traditional

the past," precisely by trying to identifY "laws" of historical

project of history as an academic discipline, with the project of

change and by developing, based on such "laws," possible sce

interpreting (that is, reconceptualizing) our knowledge about the

narios for the future. Ben'leen that past and this future, the pres

past, or with the goal of "learning from history." On the con

en~ appeared to be merely a short moment of transition in which

trary, the way in which some museums organize their exhibits

humans shaped their subjectivity and used their agency by

calls to mind the son et Lumiere shows that some historical sites in

imagining and choosing among possible futures and by trying to

France began to offer in the late

1950S ,

as well as the appeal


contribute to the realization of the specific future that they had

historical novels like The Name of the Rose and films like Radio

chosen. What we seem to have lost, only recently, is the self

Days, Amadeus, or Titanic. All of this points to a desire for pre

attribution of that active movement through time ("leaving the

sentification-and I have certainly no objections. Short of aiwaysl

past behind" and "entering the future") that had permeated his

being able to touch, hear, and smell the past, we certainly cherish

torical time. Replacing prognostication through risk calculation,

the illusion of such perceptions. This desire for presentification

for example, means that we now experience the future as inacces

can be associated with the structure of a broad present where we

sible-at least for all practical purposes. At the same time, we are

don't feel like "leaving behind" the past anymore and where the

more eager than ever (and better prepared, on the level of knowl

future is blocked . Such a broad present would end up accumu

edge and even technology) to fill the present with artifacts from

lating different past worlds and their artifacts in a sphere of si

Ep iphany IP resenti fI cario nl De ixis



12 3

mulraneiry. Anorher, supplemenrary (ra rher rhan alrernarive)

desire will be, more specifically, rhe wish ro cross rhe border of

possibiliry ro explain our changing relarionship wirh rhe pasr

our birch-roward rhe pasr. As an underlying force rhis very de

would suggesr rhar a new hisrorical culrure-corresponding ro

sire will morivare all hisrorically specific hisrorical culrures. The

rhis new chronorope-has nor yer emerged, and rhar a very basic

objecr of rhis desire lying under all hisrorically specific hisrorical

(and perhaps merahisroricai) level of our fascinarion wirh rhe

culrures would be rhe presentification of rhe pasr, rhar is, the pos

pasr is becoming visible.


If we wanr ro bener undersrand rhis basic (in rhe German cra

sibiliry of "speaking" ro rhe dead or "rouching" rhe objects of

rheir worlds.

dirion one would say "anrhropological") fascinarion wirh the

To say, as I have done, rhar such "deep" life world layers of

pasr, a good srarring poinr is rhe phenomenological concept of

human culrure may become visible in hisrorical moments rhar lie

rhe "life world." Under "life world," Edmund Husserl proposes

between hisrorically specific everyday culrures-for example,

ro subsume rhe roraliry of rhose inrellecrual and menral opera

between rhe demise of "hisrorical time" and rhe emergence of a

rions thar we expecr all humans of all culrures and rimes ro (be

hisrorical culture that would correspond ro our broad prese nr

able ro) perform. Hisrorically specific" everyday worlds" can rhen

by no means implies that the rechniques rhar we develop in sat

be analyzed as mulriple selecrions from rhe range of possibilities

isfying those basic desires-one of rhem being the desire for pre

offered by rhe life world. One of rhe more asronishing fearures of

senrification-musr be rudimentary. There is no reason why

rhe life world-at least from our angle of argumenrarion-is rhe

hisrorical novels or hisrorical film s rhar provide effects of presen

general human capaciry ro imagine mental and inrellecrual op

rificarion should be less complex rhan novels and film s thar try ro

erarions thar the human mind is not able ro perform. In other

demonsrrare rhar we can learn from hisrory. But in which gen

words, it belongs ro rhe contenr of our life world ro imagine

eral ways are rhe rechniques rhat we use in presenrifying rhe pasr

and ro desire-abiliries rhar lie beyond rhe borders of the life

differenr , say, from rhe techniques of learning from rhe pasr? To

\Vorld . The predicares rhar differenr culrures have given ro rheir

judge from contemporary fascinarions and pracrices, rhe rech

different gods-like omniscience, ererniry, omnipresence, or al

niques of presentifying the pasr quire obviously rend ro empha

mighriness-are a reservoir of such imaginations. If, based on

size rhe dimension of space-for ir is only in their sparial display

rhis reflection, we claim rhar whar we imagine ro lie beyond the

rhar we are able ro have the illu sion of rouching objects that we

borders of the life world will consrirure-merahisrorically sta

associate wirh rhe pasr. This may explain rhe growing populariry

ble-objects of desire, we can furrher speculare rhar different de

of rhe instirurion of rhe museum and, also, a renewed inrerest in

sires ro cross rhe borders of rhe life world in differenr direcrions

and reorientarion of rhe hisrorical subdiscipline of archeology. '"

may generare differenr basic screams of energy rhar will carry all

Ar rhe same rime, rhe rrend roward sparializarion makes us more

hisrorically specific culrures. The double remporal limirarion of

aware of rhe limirarions of hisroriography as a rexrual medium in

human life by birch and dearh, for example, will produce a desire

rhe business of making rhe pasr presenr ..11 Texrs and conceprs

ro cross these two borders of rhe life world, and one half of this

cercainly are rhe mosr appropriare medium for an interprerarive


Epiphan yl Presen ri ficarionl De ixis




the past. But even the most basic intellectual moves

of his[Oricization seem gradually to change as soon as they begin


Cr6nica general here, "as

if they

12 5

were in our own world." One

benefit of the capacity to let ourselves, quite literally, be attracted

to cater to the desire to make the past present, and such changes

by the past under these conditions may lie in the circumstance

revisit some basic requirements and presuppositions

that, by crossing the life world threshold of our birth, we are

oblige us


of the historian's profession ..

turning away from the ever-threatening and ever-present future

The key sensitivity expected from a historian is the double ca

of our own deaths. Bur for our new relationship to the past, it is

pacity of, firstly, discovering objects in his own everyday worlds

even more central than turning away from death that, on a gen

that have no obvious practical use in this context (that are not

eral and on an institutional level, we reject the question of whar

"ready to hand," as Heidegger would have said) and, secondly,

benefits we might expect from engaging with the past. A good '

the willingness to refrain either from finding a practical function

reason for leaving this question open, for letting the conjuring

for them or from withdtawing one's attention (leaving them as

up of the past just happen, is that any possible answer to the

"present to hand")." Only this double operation of discovering

question of practical benefits will limit the range of modalities

objects without any practical use and refraining from finding

through which we can indulge in the past-and simply enjoy

our contact with it.

such a use for them will produce "historical objects" and give
them a specific aura-at least in the eyes of the historian and of
the historically sensitive beholder. But instead of asking, at this
point, what exactly such objects turned into historical objects
may "mean"-which is the adequate question if we want to view
them as symptoms of a past that will ultimately enable us


bener understand our present-instead of asking for a meaning,

presentification pushes us in a different direction. The desire for
presence makes us imagine how we would have related, intellec
tually and with our bodies,


certain objects (rather than ask

what those objects "mean") if we had encountered them in their

own historical everyday worlds, Once we feel how this play of
our historical imagination can be appealing and contagious, once
we lure other persons into the same intellectual process, we have
produced the very situation to which we are referring when we
say that somebody is capable of "conjuring up the past." This is
the first step toward "dealing with the things of the past," and I
am quoting from the preface to the thirteenth-century Castilian

And what consequences, fl

historical presenrification
our teaching, that is, for u
ciplines that the Anglo-A
"humanities and arrs"? Let
least not primarily, how ,
presence in the classroo"-'
those modified conception
rwo main frameworks within which I propose to approach cul
tural objects, might-and should-have an impact on the ways
we think about our teaching and go about fulfilling our peda
gogical commitments. Berween these rwo frameworks I can see a
double convergence that promises to have a certain relevance for
questions of pedagogy. The first such convergence is the af
firmation of a marked distance from our everyday worlds, which