The importance of history has been powerfully reaffirmed in recent years by the appearance of major new authors, pathbreaking works, and fresh interpretations of historical events, trends, and methods. Responding to these developments, Roger Chartier engages several of the most influential writers of cultural history whose works have spread far beyond academic audiences to become part of contemporary cultural argument. Challenging the assertion that history is no more than a "fiction-making operation" Chartier examines the relationships between history and fiction and proposes new foundations for establishing history as a specific kind of knowledge.
Michel de Certeau's description of Michel Foucault's writings as "on the edge of the cliff," provides Chartier with an image he finds appropriate not only for Foucault but for many other recent historians—including de Certeau. Exploring the relationships between discursive practices and nondiscursive practices, Chartier examines the "heterology" of de Certeau pursues the "chimera of origin" and the causes of the French Revolution in Foucault's work; and raises four pertinent questions for the metahistory of Hayden White. He follows the work of Louis Marin into the distinctions between interpreting a painting and interpreting a text. And a trio of essays treats the historical sociology of Norbert Elias and his work on power and civility. Throughout, Chartier keeps his focus on historians who have stressed the relations between the products of discourse and social practices.
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