Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Seeking a Hermeneutic of Time, History, and the Self, Part 3

In the "Thoughts on Time, History and the Self" part 1 and part 2, back in November, I was exploring my own relationship to time, and past events, both of those in my own life time and those that preceded my lifetime. I was also attempting to tease out the ways we currently have a tendency to see changes over time as alienating us and separating us from what and those who have gone before, thus prioritizing change over continuity. Yet Stegal's post on the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin wall and Germany's chancellor, Merkel, participating in France's Armistice Day celebration indicated to me that this focus on change they hides the continuities bound up with the change. This is in part revealed By there being an Armistice Day Celebration that is in itself newsworthy, and that we could interpret Merkel's actions as significant.

I had begun a part three for this reflection and I began it with this statement: "One possible purpose of history as collective memory is to provide a sense of the world beyond ones own individual experience of the world and the events of your life time and experience." I then attempted to use the contrast between Stegal's and my different experiences and interpretations of both 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, to tease out how the above might be so. The exploring the meaning of the above statement was leading me into the hermeneutics of history and the self. And a concern I think I have that we should not interpret our lives only by what we ourselves experience or by what is of the moment, the most current. It seems that our sense of alienation with the past, and focus on the future and the significance of our moment and our experiences is a narrowing and limiting hermeneutic.

I see a tendency (this may be a general human tendency but it is certainly one in American Culture) towards overemphasis on our moment in time, one akin to the emphasizing of such moments as the Reformation, or the Great Schism or the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine. They are not to be deemed unimportant but lifting our time and other supposed hinge periods out of the flux is to render them static as if what comes before and comes after is less significant that these moments we chose to view as isolated moments hyper-significant moments out of which we then make egocentric sense of the flux of history. I want to explore the reality of the flux of time as that which neither prioritizes discontinuity or continuity. The meaning of history, the passage of time etc., is not necessarily found in locating the major moments of discontinuity nor is it necessarily found in the tracing of absolute continuities. The passage of time, or the flow of history is the passage from one moment into another doesn't seem to allow for emphasizing the reality of discontinuity and over that of continuity from one moment into another. I am seeing that one moment or time has no more meaning at any point in time than any other. The meaning of history is in some form of understanding of the relationship between change and continuity, that allows both to be equally significant. And yet to do so seems to indicate that history is not self-referential but references something beyond itself. However, to make this discernment and to keep this balance one needs to be telling a particular story. The story one wants to tell and the trajectory of the story, its end, will tell us how to interpret the flux and thus how and when to give meaning to continuity or discontinuity.

It is perhaps significant that I was reading a book on the thought of Ricoeur, and his hermeneutic philosophy and theology.