Experientiality and "narrative Reference," with Thanks to Thucydides

Lately, the concept of experience, which postmodernist theoreticians declared dead, has seen a renaissance. The immediacy of experience seems to offer the possibility of reaching beyond linguistic discourses. In their attempt to overcome the "linguistic turn," scholars such as Ankersmit, Gumbrecht, and Runia pit experience against narrative. This paper takes up the recent interest in experience, but argues against the opposition to narrative into which experience tends to be cast. The relation between experience and narrative is more complex than is widely assumed. Besides representing and giving shape to experience, narratives are received in the form of a (reception) experience. Through their temporal structure, narratives are crucial to letting us re-experience the past as well as to representing the experiences of historical agents. This potential of narrative is nicely illustrated by Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War in which "side-shadowing" devices restore history's experientiality. Through "side-shadowing," narrative can challenge the tendency toward teleologies inherent in merely retrospective histories and can re-create the openness intrinsic to the past when it still was a present. However, the "side-shadowing" devices used by Thucydides are fictional. To conceptualize the price and gain of "side-shadowing" in historiography, the paper advances the concept of a "narrative reference" (a concept analogous to Ricoeur's "metaphorical reference"). Introspection, speeches, and other "side-shadowing" devices sacrifice truth in a positivist sense, but permit a second-level reference, namely to history's experientiality. In a final step, the paper turns toward modern historians-most of whom are reluctant to use the means of fiction-to briefly survey their attempts at restoring the openness of the past.