The Task of the Historian

Offers an account of the emergence of poststructuralism as a central concern of historians since the 1970's. The author situates its emergence in the wake of the Holocaust, which for "second-generation" intellectuals - those who did not experience its horrors but had to contemplate them nevertheless - created a rupture or absence that could only be filled with language. For these thinkers, however, language offered no stable meanings, no fixed representations, no direct access to this terrible past. Influenced by the "linguistic turn," many historians subscribed to the belief "that our apprehension of the world, both past and present, arrives only through the lens of language's precoded perceptions," but that these were always subject to the instabilities and indeterminacies inherent in language. The author explores the impact of poststructuralism on historians, and notes its waning influence in recent years.