Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 March 2021
Hayden White (1928– 2018)
Hayden White's Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe creates a conceptual overview of four hierarchies of forms that have always been used in modern thought to structure the narrative of historical events. Each of the four hierarchies will consist of a foundational level of grammatical style, a narrative form of the emplotment of events furthered by the grammatical style, a well-known dramatic form reflectively honed that gives a cultural significance to the emplotments, and, an ideological implication, given the time of its political-social expression. He describes these forms in how they conjoin events with a thoroughness that enables a logical calculus of the differing semantics typical of four of the forms, that being their foundational sub-structure in what he calls their “deep structure,” “pre-critical,” or “pre-figural” expression. By that he means the non-conscious conscious level of the structure of thought discerned a century earlier by Brentano, Freud, Husserl and others who contributed to initial phases of deepening the functioning of human consciousness beyond the reflective level. All these four hierarchies in each of their four forms generate by their syntax and semantics at this deeper level of thought their spontaneous expression in the artifacts of writing or oral communication.
Having argued in his 1969 paper on Croce and Vico of the complex amalgam of normative and challenging structural logics of history that one must know, White now deepens that insight with a “stylistic analysis” that in some ways is superior to even that of Aristotle, found in his Rhetoric, and to some degree in his Poetics. White's 1973 text will offer a systematic guide into historical analysis of any age:
This analysis of the deep structure of the historical imagination is preceded by a methodological Introduction. Here I try to set forth, explicitly and in a systematic way, the interpretative principles on which the work is based … In this theory I treat the historical work as what it most manifestly is: a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse. Histories (and philosophies of history as well) combine a certain amount of “data,” theoretical concepts for “explaining” these data, and a narrative structure for their presentation as an icon of sets of events presumed to have occurred in times past.