Editorial: History and Dialogue

In: Culture and Dialogue
Author: Gerald Cipriani
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Volume 5 Issue 2 of Culture and Dialogue is devoted to the theme of “history and dialogue,” that is, to particular ways of relating to a more or less distant past for the sake of understanding and renewal.

Gone are the days of naivety that made world history follow the course of Reason or other totalising teleological ideals. Gone should be the days that reduce history to logical orders based on causation that could be worked out, for example, by imagining counterfactuals. Should history, then, amount to subjectivity alone or, for that matter, inter-subjectivity? Such a radicalism could be equally ethically unbalanced. Historical truth is neither reality nor interpretation. Historical truth has a physicality permeated by the singularity of the onlooker, with various degrees of emphasis depending on the physical intensity or the subjective will. A war, for example, imposes itself as historical tragedy because of, among other factors, the physical harm caused and the space and time it takes. But even in such a case, the significance of a war calls for subjective interpretation, which inevitably carries its load of moral values, political judgements and other motivations. The nexus between physical reality and interpretative singularity at the heart of historical truth is, needless to say, immensely complex and takes different shapes depending on physical and cultural circumstances. There is, however, a mutually creative determining dynamics at work between the physicality of historical truth and its interpretation, as if the former empties the latter, which, in turn, establishes the significance of an event by projecting values onto it or analysing causal relationships outside of itself. In this sense, the physical reality of historical truth is the place of the interpreting subject as much as the latter is the place of the former, as paradoxical as it may sound. The historian who looks at a human predicament is already shedding a new light on his or her conception of what constitutes such a reality. Vice versa, each time the reality looks in the eyes of the historian, interpretation takes place and is renewed. Such is the dialogical nature of historical truth.

The selection of essays of the current issue reflects in one way or another the dialogical nature of historical truth, either through analyses of particular case studies or in general terms. Laura Candiotto offers an example of how a particular form of dialogical quest – the Socratic dialogue – can be used to avert the tragedies that have partly shaped the history of humanity and, more specifically, the rise of Nazism. The dialogue is then akin to “political action” in the face of history and toward a more human future. Elisa Freschi, Elise Coquereau and Muzaffar Ali reflect on the way Daya Krishna incorporated in his own philosophy some dialogical features of classical Indian philosophy and on the subsequent impact on contemporary Indian philosophy. Arup Jyoti Sarma reappraises the question of historical understanding and, in particular, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s idea of dialogical “play” at work in interpretative experience. Natan Elgabsi offers an expository account of a neglected aspect of the work of historian Marc Bloch on the nature of “historical understanding” and the possibility of “understanding other worlds in their own terms.” Dimitri Spivak closes the discussion by highlighting or, for many of us, recalling the centrality of the idea of intercultural dialogue within the unesco and with particular relevance to “cultural heritage,” its possibilities, and its difficulties.

As the Editor in Chief of Culture and Dialogue, I would like to express my thanks to my editorial colleagues, Martin Ovens, Loni Reynolds and Robert Clarke, all the Editorial Board members for their continuous support and trust, as well as all the generous anonymous reviewers whose scholarship and expertise are of the essence to guarantee the academic standard of the Journal. Finally, my words of gratitude equally go to the contributors who accepted so diligently our editorial work. This is also a form of understanding that is part of the dialogical “play.”

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