Koselleck's Times

In this essay, I examine the key features of Reinhart Koselleck's situatedness in his place and time, insofar as they help us grasp his particular slant on historical writing, and then discuss the main thrust of his Historik, or his theory of the possibility of historical practice. Koselleck argued that historical theory must be a theory about time, or, more accurately, times. In his decisive terminology, the historical “present” consisted in the Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen (contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous), or the historical moment was analogous to a geological stratification, with different Zeitschichten (sediments of time) making their presence felt in distinct configurations of pressure and pacing. Koselleck strove, within his German cultural situation, to acknowledge the Gadamerian argument for the linguistic character of historical understanding and, indeed, of the human experience it enunciates, but he also suggested that historical practice had to unearth the prelinguistic structures that also (and inescapably) constrained experience and its articulation. All in all, Koselleck provided heuristic considerations for concrete empirical practice, neither endeavoring nor achieving theoretical prescriptions whereby histories must be constructed or adjudicated.