The Flatness of Historicity

This article pursues an explication of the meaning of “historicity.” This explication is in part theoretical and in part historical, passing by the German conceptual history of the term, a Romantic-era fairy tale with bearings on the matter, and structuralist theories of history, especially Claude Lévi-Strauss's and Louis Althusser's. The “flatness” of historicity, the article argues, emerges from the absence of layers of explanatory and semantic depth that would provide a foundation for the term. The closer the concept of historicity was tied to notions of human existence and phenomenal and aesthetic experience in the hermeneutic tradition, the more such layers appeared to emerge. The structuralist argument started out from the impulse to reject this tradition. Diverse variations of this argument rally around an understanding of the reality of the historical in both set-theoretical and semiotic terms. They dismantle a variety of manners in which historicity can be tied to notions of the phenomenal subject and of intentionality and existence/Dasein. The article asserts that the structuralist argument, in spite of a tendency to develop its own layers of seeming profundity, has a considerable degree of rigor and establishes the plausibility of the flatness of historicity. I conclude by discussing some of the positive implications of this notion, which in particular affect the manner in which the historical and the political interlock.