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Past for the Eyes

 | 
Oksana Sarkisova
, 
Péter Apor

Documents of Communism: Lost and Found

The Man in the White Raincoat

István Rév

Texte intégral

  • 1 László Eörsi, Köztársaság tér 1956 [Republic Square 1956] (Budapest: 1956 Institute, 2006), 80.

1In the late morning of 30 October 1956, revolutionaries attacked the headquarters of the Budapest Party committee, next to the City Opera in the eighth district of the city. Most probably, it was not a well-planned, premeditated siege; the attack was triggered by unsubstantiated and never confirmed beliefs about the existence in the cellars of underground prisons and torture chambers with hundreds of prisoners, women and children among them. The Ministry of Defense sent six tanks to assist the communist defenders, but the head of the unit and the driver of the leading tank were both unfamiliar with that part of the city. The tanks, which had come to Budapest from a location sixty kilometers away, mistakenly started shelling the party headquarters, from whose windows the defenders were shooting at the attacking crowd. In the process they completely ruined the City Opera, while the insurgents in their turn stormed and occupied the party headquarters, brutally killing the parliamentarians who had been sent out under a white flag to negotiate a ceasefire. “We fucked up,” said Major Gallo, the head of the unit, summarizing the results of the unlucky expedition at his post-revolutionary trial in 1957.1 Altogether twenty-six Communists were killed in what turned out to be the bloodiest anti-Communist atrocity during the thirteen days of the 1956 revolution. There is speculation, even today, that the Soviets eventually decided to come back to defeat the revolution by military might as a consequence of the bloodbath on October 30. Several Western photographers and photojournalists were on the square at the time of the siege. George Sadovy sent a photo report to Life, which was reproduced all over the world. Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, the twenty-seven-year-old Paris Match photographer, was killed while covering the events in front of the party headquarters. A fair number of film crews documented the events, and after the defeat of the revolution, the photographs and the footage of the fighting were used by the communist courts that tried the so-called “counter-revolutionaries” involved in the storming of the building.

2Some of the footage shows a man in a white raincoat in front of the fallen building after the fighting, carrying a machine gun on his shoulder. He is hard to identify, as his features are barely visible, and in a curious way, men in photographs from 1950s Hungary look surprisingly similar, even when taken from relatively close up. Communism was a society of visible uniformity: there was only a very limited choice of clothing, the state-owned hairdressing salons offered the same haircut, and it would have been dangerous in any case to try to be markedly different from the majority. Nevertheless, there is only one person wearing a white raincoat among the armed revolutionaries in the photographs.

***

  • 2 András Gervai, “Egy ügynök azonosítása” [The identification of an informer], Élet és Irodalom 50 ( (...)

3On 27 January, 2006 Élet és Irodalom [Life and Literature], one of the most influential Hungarian cultural weeklies, published a long article under the title “The identification of an informer.”2 It was a few days before the opening of the annual Hungarian Film Festival with István Szabó’s new film, Relatives (Rokonok, 2006). “The identification of an informer” is a piece of accidental investigative journalism. The author, a film critic, while working on a monograph on the history of Hungarian film in the past decades, in the course of his research, stumbled upon a file in the Historical Archives of the State Security, which contains the forty-eight reports written between 1957 and 1963 by an informer under the pseudonym “Endre Kékesi.” The author of the article keeps up the suspense for a long time, but before the end of his lengthy investigative report he reveals that the person under the alias was a member of the famous class of 1956 at the Budapest Film Academy, and none other than the only Hungarian film director to receive the Academy Award for the best foreign language film, Mephisto, in 1982: István Szabó, who also received the award for best screenplay at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.

4The reports of the informer are in general quite uninteresting; there is no downright damaging information about any of the seventy-two people about whom Szabó reported during his six years as an informer. However, we can never be sure about the consequences of seemingly innocent sentences sent to the secret police, who arranged and rearranged information received from different sources and used it in ways that would have been unimaginable to the naïve informer, who tried not to harm those whom he betrayed. Péter Esterházy, the Hungarian novelist, provides a telling anecdote about his father, Count Esterházy, who was also arrested and recruited as an informer after 1956. In one of his reports, reproduced in Esterházy’s second novel about his father, Corrected Edition, Count Esterházy, who worked as an underpaid, half-unemployed, freelance translator, describes a visit to his former family estate, where his former servants and maids welcome him in the local pub, hoping that within the walls their gestures of nostalgia and gratitude would remain hidden from the eyes of the authorities, who eventually learn about their sympathy towards the former landlord from the report written by the object of the sympathy himself. Despite the matter-of-factness and neutral tone of his description, retribution follows, and the former servants either lose their jobs or suffer other kinds of punishment as a result of the report of the contrite informer, who certainly never meant to punish his faithful former servants.

5Next day István Szabó gave an interview to the Hungarian daily with the largest circulation, the former official newspaper of the Communist Party:

  • 3 István Szabó, “Szembesítés” [Taking sides], Népszabadság (27 January 2006), available at www.nol.h (...)

I am grateful to fate, and in retrospect, I can be very proud of what happened. My work for the state security was the bravest and most daring act of my whole life. With the help of my work for the security services, we managed to prevent one of our classmates being caught after the 1956 revolution and saved him from the gallows. (…) We succeeded, and he became a world famous film director. (…) I made a life-long commitment to my friends not to talk about this affair. But fifty years have passed since then, the regime has changed, and something for which one would have been hanged has turned into a glorious heroic act. (…) I am talking about Pál Gábor, [director of Vera Angi, 1979, a deservedly famous film about the Stalinist period in Hungary] who was my classmate in 1956. On the day of the siege of the party headquarters, I visited another classmate of ours. Then, unannounced, Pál Gábor arrived with a gun on his shoulder and said that he had come from Köztársaság square, where they had stormed and occupied the building. (…) Then the Soviets came in, and by that time Pali was very frightened. We promised each other that we would never talk about his participation in the storming of the building, and we would save him in every conceivable way. (…) I was arrested with two of my classmates in February 1957. The reason is unknown to me to this day. We were held at the police station for three days, and we had to tell them everything about our classmates and also about ourselves. One of the two is still alive, and I do not have the right to reveal his name. The other was Ferenc Kardos [another film director], who is no longer alive. On the third day they forced me to sign a paper to the effect that I would report about life at the Film Academy. (…) When I came out I went to Gyöngyössy [another classmate, who would also become a film director] and told him everything. He was much older than most of us, very experienced, having already spent three years in prison in the early 1950s, and he persuaded me to accept that role, which would enable us to misinform the authorities and save our friend from the square. (…) This did not seem to be a too great a sacrifice for a friend. I really wanted to protect my classmates. This was my only ambition. I do not know how it was possible that although he was visible in that newsreel among the gunmen in front of the party headquarters, he was not recognized and arrested. (…) In 1958, while working as an assistant at the documentary film studio, I chanced to open the door of an editing room, and to my horror I glanced at footages from a documentary made on the square. I immediately recognized Pál Gábor in a white raincoat with a gun in his hand. It was a horrible moment. In the evening, I ran up to Gyöngyössy, and told him what I had seen. He asked me who else had seen the footage. I answered that there were only two people in the editing room, and nobody else had seen the pictures. It was he who told Pali what I had seen.3

  • 4 Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 78.
  • 5 Gabrielle Taylor, Pride, Shame and Guilt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 81.
  • 6 Williams, Shame and Necessity, 220.
  • 7 Ibid., 221–2.

6From Szabó’s words, it is fair to assume that what he felt in the face of the revelation was most probably shame; that is why it was so important for him to present his deed as a heroic act. The deeply buried secret had suddenly surfaced. Having been exposed, he felt it necessary to emphasize that he was proud of his act, which he did not consider as surrender, but rather as a sacrifice laid under mortally dangerous conditions on the altar of friendship. Pride is the opposite of shame, if shame is defined as “being seen, inappropriately, by the wrong people, in the wrong condition,” as Bernard Williams, the moral philosopher, formulated its primary meaning.4 Szabó insisted that his was an act of bravery, which is furthest from what one can be ashamed of, for “shame is the emotion of self-protection,” as Gabrielle Taylor remarked.5 He obviously did not feel any guilt. “The root of shame lies in exposure (…) in being at a disadvantage (…) a loss of power.”6 Szabó repeated several times in the interview that his enemies wanted to destroy him, that the news of the revelation was sent to the international media in order to undermine his position as an internationally acclaimed artist, that the aim was to break his artistic career. He was afraid of the loss of his standing in the eyes of others. Shame is “the fear at anger, rather than fear of anger (…); [shame is] in its very nature a more narcissistic emotion than guilt.”7 Whereas shame can be considered as more self-centered, self-directed, guilt is directed to the other, the victim of the shameful act; guilt is closely connected to the acceptance of responsibility. Guilt and responsibility for one’s despicable actions are related to the idea of reparation, compensation, healing. All such notions and emotions were apparently absent in Szabó’s reaction.

  • 8 Ki a ballonkabátos férfi?” [Who is the man in raincoat?], Népszabadság (30 January 2006), availabl (...)

7Two days later the best-informed historian of the 1956 armed struggle contradicted Szabó’s claims. The historian stated with real confidence that the man in the white raincoat was not Pál Gábor but László Marsányi, a twenty-one-year-old artisan, the head of a small insurgent group, who lived in the eighth district of Budapest and emigrated to the West after the revolution, at which point he disappeared from the sight of the authorities, the police, and scholars. Eight members of his group were identified, arrested and tried, and seven of them were sentenced to death and executed. The historian did not want to make Szabó’s life even more difficult, but he felt it important to note that all those who had been so visible in the pictures taken at the site of the siege of the building—and had not emigrated in the meantime—were arrested and tried, and in most cases sentenced to death. The authorities did not let anybody escape who could be identified in the photographs.8

8The next day the media found László Marsányi in Australia; he had not visited Hungary since he left at the end of 1956. He confirmed that he had been among the fighters on the square but the quality of the photograph he received made it impossible for him to state with confidence that he recognized himself.

  • 9 Zsolt Kézdi–Kovács, “Jelentek” [I report], Élet és Irodalom 50 (3 February 2006).

9The surviving members of the 1956 Film Academy class called an international press conference in defense of their friend István Szabó. All five filmmakers whom Szabó had reported on, claimed that they recognized beyond doubt their former classmate, Pál Gábor, in the pictures. They are outstanding, although somewhat elderly visual artists with—one would think—above average visual skills and excellent eyes, which should enable them to identify images. A few days later, one of them published an essay, in the same journal that had revealed Szabó’s past, in which he confessed that he had been one of the two men, arrested together with Szabó, and also recruited by the secret police as an informer.9

10August 2006 saw the publication of an interview with György Hoffmann, a former photojournalist of MTI, the Hungarian National News Agency. Hoffmann had taken pictures in the square and sold them to wellknown western photographers, who could pay him more than he would have received, had he sold them under his own name. “Laci Marsányi was my classmate at school, we sat together on the same bench for three years, and I am sure that it is not him in the photograph. I met Marsányi several times during the revolution, and he did not wear such a long coat; he wore a rather short coat instead. I remember this very well, there are things that remain inscribed in one’s memory forever.”10

11In the meantime 117 public figures, including well-known artists, filmmakers, Szabó’s former classmates, and politicians, signed a petition on Szabó’s behalf, reminding the public that he had been making exceptional and important films, dealing with crucial and timely historical and ethical issues, for forty-five years; he had brought fame to Hungary, making Hungarian culture known all over the world. “We love him, we honor him, and we praise him,” wrote the illustrious group, which included even the first post-communist president of the country, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment after 1956; his signing of the petition did not remain unnoticed.

12A copy of the documentary on the siege of the party headquarters with the man in the white raincoat is in the collection of the OSA Archivum, where I work. I know the film, in which the man in front of the besieged building appears for less than two seconds. When Szabó accidentally caught a glimpse of the footage through the open door of the editing room, it would have been impossible for him to recognize his classmate. Even when the film is slowed down or stopped and the frame is enlarged (none of which was possible for Szabó at that moment back in 1958), it is still impossible to identify the figure with any certainty. It is therefore highly unlikely that Szabó was able to recognize Pál Gábor in the footage. Gábor’s widow has declined to tell in public what she knows.

13The original report about Szabó’s past was published only a few days before the opening of the annual film festival, and numerous voices in the media interpreted the timing as evidence of a premeditated smear campaign at the time of the release of the director’s long-awaited new movie. The opening night at the largest cinema in Budapest turned into a public demonstration, with the socialist Prime Minister (a member of the successor party to the pre-1989 Communists) affectionately congratulating the director in front of the cameras, hugging him and calling him “a national treasure.” The head of the right-wing opposition did not want to be left out, and he, too, expressed his support for the embattled artist in the presence of a cheering crowd, while a few others, in a demonstrative way, left the theater without waiting for the applause. The next day two hundred intellectuals signed a mock-petition with the clear intention of distancing themselves from those who had demonstrated in support of Szabó. A long and heated media battle started, centering on the case of the famous film director, but with more far-reaching moral implications in a country where after more than one and a half decades there is still no proper legal method of dealing with former informers and with the documents of the former secret services in general. Those historians who work on morally loaded events of the recent past, in particular on issues related to the life and work of former informers, have often been publicly accused of inappropriate treatment of contentious and sensitive events.

***

14In Hungary, unlike Germany, there was no Gauck Commission, no general vetting of former Stasi agents; in contrast to Czechoslovakia, no lustration; as opposed to Poland no systematic (although always unsuccessful and invidious) attempts to identify the informers of the past regime. As an almost natural consequence of the peaceful, negotiated nature of the political transition of 1989, based on mutual self-restraint and compromise, not only could the members of the former nomenklatura retain their positions in public life, but—except for a small and well-defined group of elected officials (members of Parliament and the government, editors-in-chief of the public media)—nobody was required to undergo an examination of his or her former connections with one particular branch of the secret service, the branch responsible for fighting the so called “internal enemy.” This restraint meant that former members of the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies, even if elected to high public office, were not obliged to reveal their past. (In 2002, immediately after the general election, an opposition newspaper revealed that the newly elected Prime Minister—a former Deputy Prime Minister of the pre-1989 regime—had been a top-secret counter-intelligence officer from the late 1970s. The Prime Minister claimed that he had accepted the job in order to help Hungary’s entry into the IMF, against the maneuvering of the Soviets, since as a counter-intelligence officer he was in a better position to neutralize their subversive activities. He made this claim in spite of the fact that until 1989 there were high-ranking Soviet officials, so-called advisors, in the Ministry of the Interior, and no serious personal appointment could be made to the secret services without the prior consent of the representatives of the Soviet secret services. He remained in office, and after the revelation, his popularity reached an all-time high.)

15Until recently, files on former informers were available only to well-defined groups of individuals: people who had been informed on, or researchers who had received permission from the special archival commission set up by the government. In the past few years, files of other branches of the former secret services, including selected, pre-1989 documents from the archives of the intelligence and counterintelligence services, have become available to researchers with permission from the same archival commission. Nevertheless, even today the successor services have far-reaching discretionary rights in deciding which documents to transfer to the Historical Archives of the State Security, and in the absence of proper inventories, indexes and catalogues, the researcher is completely dependent on the intentions and the good or bad will of the institutions and the archivist. Nobody has an overview of the extent or the exact nature of the files. Researchers are working in the dark, and the availability of documents is a matter of sheer luck and the helpfulness of civil servants, who do not know whom they are supposed to be helping: the institutions, the victims, the researchers, the public, or the data protection Ombudsman, whose overriding priority is to protect the privacy and informational self-determination of those individuals about whom information is available in the depths of the archive. According to the law, information concerning public figures should become public, but the status of public figure is dependent on the consent of the individual; if the famous film director, who later on became the powerful and highly influential head of a state-owned film studio under Communism, does not consider himself a public figure, information about his former secret life is not public information. The consequence of this situation is that politically sensitive information about selected individuals is leaked in the service of the ever-changing political needs of the day. (My agent only served the public good, while your agent was a morally corrupt traitor.)

16In the past one-and-a-half decades the revelations have customarily been followed by expressions of sympathy and solidarity, as if the identification of important, publicly known figures as former informers could mitigate the collaborationist past of the wider public. In this situation the historian has a distinctive role and a special responsibility. It cannot be denied that the informer is the collaborator of the historian. The informer’s reports are invaluable sources for the historian, who would not be able to understand the crucial issues of the buried and forgotten past without the rediscovered secret reports of this dubious character. The secret police archives are goldmines for the historian, who, nevertheless, cannot be unambiguously grateful for the help provided by the informer.

***

  • 11 “Mephisto: István Szabó and the ’Gestapo of Suspicion,’” John W. Hughes’ interview with István Sza (...)

17Szabó, in the interviews he gave after the revelation, repeatedly claimed that although he had remained silent about his past for sixteen years, even after the collapse of Communism, he was under oath (allegedly to his friends) not to speak, and that in any case he had treated the problem of his past in his own films. As he claimed, his film Confidence (Bizalom, 1979), nominated for an Oscar, could already serve as a key to his thinking about the central moral issues that confront the individual under dictatorship. “In Confidence”—as Szabó confided in the pages of Film Quarterly—“the Gestapo of suspicion and distrust” haunts the protagonists.11 Confidence is a peculiar love story created under the spell of Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 Shame, which takes place in wartime. It is set during the short-lived but tragic rule of the fascist Arrow Cross at the end of World War II in Hungary. The protagonist, an underground resistance fighter, falls in love with the wife of another partisan. The man is unable to have any real confidence in the woman, who loves him and whom he should trust, not only as a lover but also as a co-conspirator. He is unable to trust her because he cannot forget that it was his previous lover, in Germany in 1933, who had given him up to the Nazis. The film depicts a perverted world, where nobody can be trusted, where anybody might be reported on, betrayed, let down, and disappear without a trace.

  • 12 Klaus Mann wrote the book in exile in Amsterdam and it was originally published in 1936 in the Net (...)
  • 13 Klaus Mann, “What’s Wrong with anti–Nazi films?” Decision (August 1941): 27–35.
  • 14 According to the 1961 edition of the Merriam–Webster Third New International Dictionary, the term (...)

18Szabó’s next film Mephisto was based on Klaus Mann’s novel of the same title.12 The protagonist of the novel is Hendrik Höfgen, whose real life model was Gustaf Gründgens, the famous German actor and stage director. Gustaf (later Gustav) Gründgens had appeared in Klaus Mann’s first play, Anja und Esther, together with Klaus Mann’s sister, Erika Mann, and Pamela Wedekind, the eldest daughter of the dramatist Frank Wedekind. The play, which portrayed a lesbian relationship, was staged at the Hamburger Kammerspiele, where Gründgens played more than seventy roles between 1923 and 1928. There are reasons to suppose that Klaus Mann became intimately attracted to Gründgens, who in 1926 married Erika Mann, although she was in love with Pamela Wedekind. Erika Mann and Gründgens divorced in 1929. During the time of the Weimar republic Gründgens, Bertolt Brecht’s favorite actor, flirted with the Communists and he even planned—as Szabó showed in his Mephisto—to direct some sketches under the title “Revolutionary Theater.” Max Reinhardt, one of the founders of modern theater, invited him to Berlin, and in the 1932-33 season Gründgens played Mephisto in Goethe’s Faust for the first time under Reinhardt’s direction. In 1931, Gründgens played the role of Schraenker, the crime boss, in Fritz Lang’s first talking movie, M.—Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder, which was seen by some, including Siegfried Kracauer and Klaus Mann, as a premonition of the Nazis’ rise to power.13 Although the film was banned by the Nazis, the speech made before the court by the serial killer Hans Becker, played by the Hungarian-born Jewish actor Peter Lorre, was later taken out of context by Goebbels and inserted into the most famous Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda film, The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude, 1940), as an ersatz confession of Jewish guilt.14

  • 15 Wolf Lepenies attributes the fact that while “in 1949, the majority of Germans considered Faust th (...)

19After Hitler came to power, Gründgens found a patron in Herman Goering, who was married to an actress. Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, himself a failed novelist, intensely disliked the homosexual Gründgens, but in 1934 he appointed him director of the Prussian Staatstheater in Berlin. Like Wilhelm Furtwängler, Gründgens was also appointed a member of the Prussian State Council. He became one of the most recognizable faces of Nazi cultural policy and propaganda, acting and directing both on stage and on the screen. Influenced by the Nazi “total war” efforts, he volunteered for the front in 1943. He was stationed at an airbase near Amsterdam, then recalled to continue his politically engaged “kultur efforts” at the Staatstheater. After the war, he was incarcerated in a Soviet prisoner of war camp, but following his anti-Nazi investigation trial, he was rehabilitated, and continued his theatrical career, first in East, later in West Berlin, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. In 1954 the Federal Republic decorated him with the German Service Cross, the highest civilian award, for his services to post-war German culture. In 1957 Gründgens directed Goethe’s Faust in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. He played Mephistopheles once more, and the performance was turned into a film, directed by Peter Gorski, Gründgens’s post-war companion and adopted son.15 He died of an overdose of sleeping pills in Manila, where he stopped on his round-the-world travels after retiring from the stage in Hamburg. He left a short note behind, asking not to be woken, as he wanted to have a long sleep.

  • 16 Stefan Steinberg, “Die Rehabilitierung von Gustaf Gründgens,” available at http:// wsws.org/de/200 (...)

20On 22 December, 1999 on the hundredth anniversary of Gründgens’ birth, an exhibition opened in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, “Gustav Gründgens—A German Career.” His life was turned into a television documentary, his films were shown in German cinemas. At the entrance to the exhibition hung a poster with a quotation from Gründgens, from the time following the war: “I want to be regarded as someone who preserved and nourished the flame in a dark period and someone who can relate how it was, how it is now, and how one can possibly rebuild.”16 At the time of the centenary, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that Gründgens was “a participant who did not collaborate.”

  • 17 Quoted by John W. Hughes, “Mephisto,” 14.
  • 18 Lawrence Van Gelder, “ ’Mephisto.’ Tracks the Dark Ascent of a Nazi Collaborator,” The New York Ti (...)

21Szabó’s Mephisto—in George Steiner’s words—presented the unholy fusion between Kultur and barbarism.17 However, Klaus Maria Brandauer, the Austrian actor who played Hendrik Höfgen (Gründgens’ personification) in Mephisto, told the film critic of The New York Times: “I saw him only in his films, but I read his books. For me, he was the most important figure of the German language theater in the whole century. He was not only an actor but a director and the president of a big theater. His life was theater. Only theater. The stage was for him the world in which he was able to live. (…) He saved Polish people, Jewish people from his theater during the war, and after the war the communist actor Ernst Busch from East Berlin said to the military government: Mr. Gründgens was a very honorable man during the war. And for that reason Gründgens became free.”18 (As the title of his review testified, the film critic Lawrence Van Gelder, did not quite share Brandauer’s characterization.)

22Brandauer gave a stunning performance in Mephisto. Klaus Mann portrayed the Gründgens of the novel as follows:

Hendrik Höfgen—typecast as an elegant blackguard, murderer in evening dress, scheming courtier—see nothing, hear nothing. He has nothing to do with the city of Berlin. Nothing but stages, film studio, dressing rooms, a few night-clubs, a few fashionable drawing rooms are real to him. Does he not feel the change in the seasons? (…) The actor Höfgen lives from one first night to the next, from one film to another, his calendar composed of performance days and rehearsal days. He scarcely notices that the snow melts, that the trees and bushes are in bud or in full leaf, that there are flowers and earth and streams. Encapsulated by his ambition as in a prison cell, insatiable and tireless, always in a state of extreme hysterical tension, Hendrik embraces a destiny that seems to him exceptional but is in fact nothing but a vulgar arabesque at the edge of an enterprise doomed to collapse.

  • 19 Ibid., 1.
  • 20 Ibid., 4.

23The audience of the film, however, sees not only an uncontrollably vain character, but also a great actor. Brandauer knows, exactly as Gründgens did, that Mephisto is his real chance of fame. “For an actor, the principal role in Mephisto is a dream—the portrait of an artist in moral decay, the opportunity to sweep through a panorama of roles, to sing, to dance, to rage, to rut, to swagger before underlings and cower in the presence of overwhelming power, to depict public confidence and private agony.”19 Brandauer takes to it like a fish to water; this is his supreme moment, the height of his artistic career. And he does not only excel in portraying a character who deems no price too high to pay for success, who is willing to serve the darkest powers for a chance to act out his exhibitionism, but he also succeeds in persuading the audience of the film that he is playing a great actor. “To act the part of Höfgen was like therapy for me, because Mr. Höfgen is an actor and I am, too; so he is a brother to me. We all have vanities. We want to have the love of the audience. We want to have success, and sometimes we make great compromises with the public to win success.”20 There is something chilly, and deeply unnerving in this fine performance: Brandauer manages to substantiate Gründgens’s claim to have been the man “who preserved and nourished the flame in a dark period.”

  • 21 John W. Hughes, “Mephisto,” 18 and 14, respectively.

24After the revelation that he had been an informer, Szabó insisted that although he had remained silent about the details of his career, in his films he had returned time and time again to this most personal issue of his life and had courageously faced the moral lessons of his secret: “We want to do nothing more than tell the story of what has happened to us,” as he stated in an interview he gave in 1982, after the American opening of Mephisto. However, in the same interview he claimed that “we are often unable to carry out the more difficult tasks set for us by history. But it’s not always people who are to blame for that. The human tasks set by history in this century may be unique in their difficulty. As has also been stated, history is a kind of director deciding the roles we play in our individual lives (…) the dice are thrown by history.”21

***

25We should remember that Szabó finished working on Mephisto in 1981. In 1975, Leni Riefenstahl was the guest of honor at the Colorado film festival. Next year Riefenstahl’s spectacular and disquieting photo album on the males of a Sudanese tribe, The Last of the Nuba, was published. Susan Sontag’s famous and scandalous review, “Fascinating Fascism,” triggered by the publication of Riefenstahl’s book, appeared in the New York Review of Books in the same year. (It was republished in her celebrated book of essays, Under the Sign of Saturn, in 1980.) The cover of the Last of the Nuba asserted that Riefenstahl sprang to international fame “during Germany’s blighted and momentous 1930s.” Many Nazi works of art were exhibited in public for the time after World War II at the 1974 Frankfurt am Main exhibition, “Art in the Third Reich.” In 1977, the Haus der Kunst in Munich organized “Die Dreissiger Jahre: Schauplatz Deutschland” exhibition that traveled to Essen and then to Zurich. Ursus Books published a massive catalogue of the works on show. The “Utopia and Apocalypse: A View of Art in Germany 1910-1939” exhibition opened in London in 1978. In 1981, the “Realism” exhibition was organized in Paris. “The Thirties: Art and Culture in Italy” show opened in Milan in 1982. When Szabó turned to the art and culture of the Third Reich, he was not a solitary artist, working in a cultural vacuum, who had suddenly discovered the sunken world of the 1930s and 1940s. Susan Sontag remarked that it was not that Riefenstahl’s Nazi past has suddenly become acceptable. Simply, with the turn of the cultural wheel it no longer matters in the way it did before.

26In several interviews he gave after the collapse of Communism, Szabó reiterated that that he had turned to Nazi Germany as the setting of some of his films, because it would have been politically impossible to portray another totalitarian regime, that is Hungary or the Soviet Union. The Third Reich, according to him, served as a laboratory to test general moral problems, a substitute for Communism, as he knew it from personal experience. Szabó himself appears for a brief moment in Mephisto, standing on a grand glittering staircase in the middle of a spectacular Nazi party, surrounded by a forest of black flags with enormous red swastikas, and whispering to his neighbor: “and we are even supposed to applaud this…” But he turned to Germany even after the fall of the communist regime, when he was no longer forced to replace his personal experiences with stories set in pre-or post-war Germany. In 2001 he finished Taking Sides (Szembesítés), a film whose protagonist was Wilhelm Furtwängler, another emblematic figure of German culture. It seems that apart from the alleged historical analogies, there was something else that pulled Szabó towards Germany. As the unsettling case of the Mephisto film has already indicated, the deeper reasons may be found somewhere else.

  • 22 Thomas Mann, “This Man is my Brother,” Esquire 11 (1939). Quoted by Wolf Lepenies in The Seduction (...)
  • 23 Wolf Lepenies, “The End of ’German Culture,’” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Ha (...)
  • 24 Ibid., 174–5.
  • 25 Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the German Ideology (Berkele (...)
  • 26 Lepenies, “The End of ’German Culture,’” 177.

27Three years after his son published Mephisto, and eight years before he would finish Doktor Faustus, Thomas Mann wrote a strange piece on Hitler for Esquire magazine, in which he claimed that “the moral sphere (…) is really not altogether the artist’s concern.”22 In his Tanner Lecture delivered at Harvard, Wolf Lepenies, the cultural sociologist and German public intellectual, argues that in Germany, from as early as the nineteenth century, but especially after the devastating defeat in World War I, culture became accepted as a compensation for politics, and when this happened, the absence of morality in the public sphere was also accepted.23 Lepenies claims that “[t]he aesthetic appeal first of fascism and later of National Socialism was not a superficial phenomenon. It must be one of the core elements in any attempt to explain the attractiveness of Nazi ideology for a large segment of the German bourgeoisie and many German artists and intellectuals.”24 Lepenies here follows Fritz Stern, one of the leading historians of modern German ideology, who wrote that German public life could be understood by reference to the preeminence of culture that prevailed in Germany from the beginning of the nineteenth century.25 According to Lepenies, “1933 was not a break, it was the fulfillment of German history. As Gottfried Benn [the German writer, who was blacklisted after the war] put it, the new state had to be commended not least because it promised to give culture its due: the separation between politics and culture was about the end. In the state of the Nazis, the cultural nation would be reborn.”26

  • 27 Lepenies, The Seduction of Culture in German History, 47. Lepenies’s culturalist approach to recen (...)

28There was something unsettling in German culture that Walter Benjamin called the aestheticization of politics, the perverted “aesthetic appeal first of fascism and later of National Socialism [that] was not a superficial phenomenon,”27 and which was an inherent part of Nazi self-identity. One should look beyond Szabó’s words, when he claims that he escaped (in his films) from the communist censors to the stage set of the Third Reich. The Germany Szabó discovered for his moralizing films was fascinated by her own culture, the special standing and treatment of the artist, who decided to stay at home, serve his country, keep culture alive, even in the darkest of all times. The productive artist, according to this deep-rooted conviction of Germany in Szabó’s films, has a responsibility; his acts cannot be judged on the basis of simple political or moral standards. His case is complex, and this should be taken into account when portraying and judging his life and achievements.

  • 28 Andrew Grey’s review of Sam H. Shirakawa’s The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Ca (...)

29Taking Sides, based on the South-African Ronald Harwood’s play (he too came from the world of a repressive regime) of the same title, presents Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler’s so-called de-Nazification investigation in a ruined Berlin, after the fall of the Nazi regime. It was once remarked that “conductors in our time fall readily into two categories: Wilhelm Furtwängler and all the others. Among those who recognized this truth early on was Adolf Hitler, possessor of perhaps the best musical ear of any twentieth century statesman—except for Ignaz Paderewski [the famed concert pianist, composer and Prime Minister of Poland in 1919]. Despite many importunities and provocations in later years, Hitler never wavered in this judgment. A photograph of the Führer reaching upward to the podium to shake the conductor’s hand after a 1935 concert of the Berlin Philharmonic is remarkable testimony—such expressions of respect by Hitler were rare.”28 Furtwängler (1886-1954), one of the most acclaimed conductors in the history of western classical music, Arturo Toscanini’s great rival, was head of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He came from a very prominent, strict, serious, German upper middle class family. His father, Adolf Furtwängler, a classical archeologist, was one of the founders of Greek studies in Germany, director of the Museum of Antiquities in Berlin. Wilhelm Furtwängler’s private tutors included the famous archeologist Ludwig Curtius, whom the Nazis forced into exile, and the Beethoven expert Walter Riezler. Wilhelm Furtwängler succeeded Arthur Nikisch as the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic; he was the musical director of the Vienna Philharmonic, and the head of the Bayreuth Festival. At the end of 1933, Goebbels set up the Reichsmusikkammer, the National Chamber of Music, headed by Richard Strauss, and Furtwängler was installed as its vicepresident, while Goering appointed him to the Prussian State Council. Although he resigned from both bodies as a consequence of his disagreement about the interpretation Paul Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler, he remained in Germany as one of the most important cultural figures who did not choose or were not forced to emigrate. Having been cleared by the civilian authorities in his de-Nazification trial, he returned to the Berlin Philharmonic to conduct his first post-war concert in May 1947. At end of the concert, the ovation lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, and there were forty-seven curtain calls.

  • 29 Max Auer, Anton Bruckner: Ein Lebens–und Schaffensbild (Regensburg: Bosse, 1936), 61–2. Quoted by (...)
  • 30 Leon Botstein, “The Future of a Tradition,” The Musical Quarterly 77 (Summer 1993): 155.
  • 31 Ibid., 156.

30Classical music occupied a special position in Germany, particularly under totalitarian and autocratic regimes. “Artistic bolshevism was carried to extremes. Against all this there was but one remedy: a return to the pure sources. What art was purer than that born of the deep religiosity of Bach, Beethoven and Bruckner! Especially Bruckner’s Godconsecrated art… [Besonders Bruckners gottgeweihte Kunst]”—stated the official Bruckner biography, published in 1936, two years before the Anschluss.29 “Kurt Masur, like Furtwängler, had been principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, but unlike Furtwängler, who had been invited but eventually rejected because of his standing under the Nazi regime, actually became the celebrated musical director of the New York Philharmonic after the fall of the Berlin Wall.” His “pivotal role in the mass demonstrations in Leipzig that helped to bring down the DDR was itself an indication of the social significance, independence, and prestige of musical culture and traditions he represented, despite the state’s official embrace and its concomitant censorship of rival musical aesthetics” as was asserted by Leon Botstein, himself a conductor and the musical director of the American Symphony Orchestra.30 Botstein reminds us that “like the communists, the National Socialists were all-too-eager patrons of so-called classical music. (…) One marvels at how the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruckner has emerged unscathed from the singular effort on the part of the Nazis to appropriate it into National Socialist ideology.”31 But we should be careful when evaluating the role classical music played in bad times, despite the fact that at the end of the 1930s in official German cultural pronouncements, Germany was identified as “das Volk Bachs, Beethovens und Bruckners.

  • 32 Ibid., 156–7.

The persistence of the “classical” tradition of musical culture in repressive societies does not itself render that tradition complicit in the success of political repression. The failure of music alone, in the sense of the instruments in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte or Joshua’s trumpet in the Old Testament, to immediately either diffuse violence or make physical reality crumble does not constitute a valid argument against the culture of classical music. As observers from Eastern Europe will testify, the actual response of listeners was more often than not in direct conflict with the overt objectives of state patronage. Exposure to music in the concert hall strengthened the spirit of resistance, not the spirit of compliance, which is why the ongoing performances of music by the Gewandhaus orchestra may have been so crucial during the pivotal days of the demonstrations in Leipzig before the fall of the Berlin wall.32

  • 33 This episode, most probably, comes from Gustav Gründgens’s biography. In the course of his de–Nazi (...)

31In Taking Sides a major in the U.S. army—played by Harvey Keitel—an insurance assessor in civilian life, is instructed to investigate the links between Furtwängler and the Nazis. The major is shown documentary films of the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and he is told to do whatever it takes to get proof of Furtwängler’s collaboration with the Nazis. The American officer interviews members of Furtwängler’s orchestra, but they point out that the conductor refused to shake hands with Hitler, which was why he carried his baton in his right hand, and that he helped Jewish musicians to escape from Germany. However, the American insurance broker reminds himself that Furtwängler conducted even on the eve of the Nazi Rally and Hitler’s birthday; and that it was his performance of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony that was broadcast over the radio when Hitler committed suicide. There is a Soviet colonel in the film, a curator from the Leningrad Museum of Art, an expert on German art and culture, who tries to persuade the American to drop the investigation, because he had been instructed to take Furtwängler with him to occupy a position in the Soviet Union.33 The Soviet colonel confides to his American colleague that unless he manages to take Furtwängler to the Soviet Union, as a war trophy, his life is in mortal danger.

32In the course of the interrogation, the major repeatedly humiliates Furtwängler, whom he describes as Hitler’s bandleader. The insurance broker turned investigator discovers that a second violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic had been a member of the Nazi party and an informer for the Nazis. The violinist, personified by Ulrich Tukur, who played with great empathy a cynical high-ranking Stasi officer in the Oscar winning 2006 German film, The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) explains that he had been a member of the Austrian Communist Party, and when the Nazis found this out, he had no choice but to agree to become an informer; that is how he could become a second violinist in the orchestra, which had been purged of Jewish musicians. The American threatens the former informer and offers him a way out, if he tells everything damaging he knows about the conductor. The frightened musician first calls Furtwängler “a man of genius” but later confides that the conductor had not only arranged to send an art critic he disapproved of to the Russian front, but had also sent Hitler a telegram wishing him a happy birthday.

33Furtwängler tries to explain to the determined and uncultured American that it was important for him to stay in Germany because music has the ability to promote liberty, humanity and justice, and he had no idea of what was happing in Germany. He asserts that he did not leave Germany “because I am not Jewish, and because I tried to help from the inside.” The American remains unconvinced and confronts Furtwängler with anti-Semitic statements he made during the Nazi rule. The major recounts that when Hitler shot himself the radio played one of Furtwängler’s recordings. “When the devil died they wanted his bandleader to conduct the funeral march.” In the end Furtwängler is charged with serving the Nazi regime and uttering anti-Semitic statements. Eventually he is acquitted of all the charges. The film ends with footage of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performing for top Nazi party officials and Furtwängler shaking the hand of the Führer. As he takes a bow, he rubs his hand on a handkerchief in an apparent attempt to rub away all contact with Hitler.

***

  • 34 As opposed to the generally perceived apparently nonrepresentational surface of music, Bruckner—of (...)

34The apparently nonrepresentational, and thus polysemous facade of music makes the musician a perfect example for István Szabó. (“Music is music,” as Edward Said recalled his childhood discovery in his memoirs.) As a result of the perceived surface neutrality of music, it seems as if the isolated composer or conductor had been engaged only in the pursuit of his artistic vocation, independent of the political, social, ideological and cultural environment of his existence.34

  • 35 Quoted by Christina Stojanova, “Taking Sides: The Case of István Szabó,” Kinema (Fall 2003): 4.

35Taking Sides, produced before the revelation of his past, as Szabó has put it in an interview, “ ’was prompted by the need to rebuff numerous attempts in post-Communist Eastern and Central Europe to bring to book famous artists and intellectuals who worked during Communism. In order to invite people not to judge the situation in black and white terms and to understand better the complexity of art and politics in a totalitarian regime.’ That is why he introduced two fictional, but very important secondary characters: Major Arnold’s English speaking secretary Emmi (…) daughter of a German officer, executed for the failed attempt on Hitler’s life, and his assistant, the German-Jewish-born, American-raised Lt. David Wills. (…) The growing affection between Emmi and David counterbalances emotionally Arnold’s arrogance and opens up the horizon of the film’s philosophical and ethical arguments towards young audiences; moreover, their generous appreciation of a great artist ensures the continuity of Furtwängler’s legacy.”35

  • 36 Samuel Lippman, “Furtwängler and the Nazis,” Commentary (March 1993): 45.

36According to musicologists and cultural historians the real strength of musical life in Weimar Germany was not in composition, but in performance or, more precisely, in performers. “The strength of German music in the 1920s lay in conductors. To mention only the most famous names—Furtwängler, Karl Muck, Bruno Walter, Fritz Busch, Erich Kleiber, Otto Klemperer and [Hungarian-born] George Szell [besides] Kanppertsbusch, Fritz Zweig, Hans Rosbaud, Artur Rother…”36 After Hitler came to power the Jewish musicians, including Klemperer, Walter, and Szell, left together with the non-Jewish Kleiber and Busch. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Szabó’s protagonist, however, decided to stay.

  • 37 Fred Prieberg, The Trial of Strength (London: Quartet Books, 1991), 101.
  • 38 Chris Walton, “Furtwängler the Apolitical?” Musical Times 145 (Winter 2004): 9.

37As the centenary of Furtwängler’s birth was approaching, his widow Elisabeth Furtwängler invited the music historian Fred Prieberg to write a book about him. Kraftprobe was published in 1986, triggering a renewed debate about the life and character of the conductor. Prieberg argued that “only as an accomplice of Hitler’s barbarism was [he] able to save Jews (…) he lived for years in a complex world that placed almost unbearable strain on his nerves. (…) He was a double agent, living every moment under threat of discovery.”37 As Chris Walton remarked in 2004 “Prieberg had the strong view that Furtwängler’s critics in the anti-fascist camp were led by their blind hatred, their criticism being a result of their having been themselves ideologically infected by the Nazis.”38

  • 39 Quoted by Chris Walton, “Furtwängler the Apolitical?” 13.

38At the end of his book, The Devil’s Music Master, Sam Shirakawa provides a long list of names of the Jews Furtwängler saved or tried to save during the Nazi regime. However, a closer look at Furtwängler’s writings and statements makes Prieberg’s claim—even from the perspective of the revisionist literature of the past two decades and despite the Furtwängler renaissance—quite problematic. Furtwängler, who dreaded atonality, was a staunch supporter of “organic” music, so dear to Nazi ideologues and music theoreticians because of the close association of the organic with the notions of social Darwinism. In an undated memorandum, Furtwängler says: “The cultural policy of the National Socialists consists primarily in the battle to defeat the demoralizing influence of Jews and others in cultural life. This struggle makes it necessary that public cultural institutions and institutions for artists themselves be reorganized by the party according to political criteria. (…) The task was in essence not so difficult, since futurism and Bolshevism in our cultural life had already been more or less defeated before the National Socialists took power and had been dismissed by all seriously-minded Germans; there remained only to make the Jews and the main exponents of futurism and Bolshevism disappear.”39

  • 40 Paul Foss, Facing War: The Good, the Bad, and the Nazi. From the Great Conductors of the Third Rei (...)

39Albert Speer, in his memoirs Inside the Third Reich, tells a story about the final concert he organized for the Berlin Philharmonic during the last days of the war. Speer, according to his recollections, had promised Furtwängler that he would warn him when the end was near, by ordering Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony to be performed as a signal that he should pack and go into hiding. The concert was held on 12 April 1945 (Furtwängler was already in Switzerland by that time) at the Bluthner Hall, near Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. The destitute audience “was treated to Beethoven’s violin concerto, the finale from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, and finally to the Bruckner. According to Annemarie Kempf, Speer’s secretary, the evening concluded with uniformed Hitler Youths offering the departing spectators baskets laden with cyanide capsules.”40

40In his own defence Szabó claimed that in his works he had confronted those moral issues hidden in his past that had tormented him. He had done what an artist could do: he had transformed specific issues into products of high aesthetic quality, and thereby formulated the particular in a general way with a universal moral message for the well-being and enlightenment of the wider public. By fictionalizing his personal concerns, his own biography, he had turned necessity into artistic virtue.

41As opposed to the options available to the artist, the work of the historian contains an element of hopeless, although, not necessarily naïve, specificity. In a particular and limited sense, there is not much difference between the natural sciences and the historical profession: both require experiments that can be repeated and then checked, verified, confirmed, or falsified using the same data.

  • 41 See Robert Nozick’s rather technical treatment of the characteristic features of objective fact in (...)
  • 42 Bernard Williams, “What Was Wrong with Minos? Thucydides and Historical Time,” Representations 74 (...)
  • 43 John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (London: Cambridge University (...)
  • 44 Carlo Ginzburg, Carlo Poni, “The Name and the Game: Unequal Exchange and the Historiographic Marke (...)
  • 45 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 30 (...)

42The facts the historian uncovers in support of his or her claims should be accessible from different angles, and they should be independent from the observer and the theorizing mind.41 The facts the historian marshals in support of his or her arguments should naturally be audience-neutral.42 For a historian, one of the most important data is the set of proper names, names of individuals connected to certain events, since “[s]entences containing proper names can be used to make identity statements which convey factual and not merely linguistic information.”43 Historians go back to the archives, sources, and documents to find, to check, to verify the names in order to ascertain the assertions of fellow historians, and to analyze the names in a new or different context. “The thread of Ariadne that leads the researcher through the archival labyrinth is the same thread that distinguishes one individual from another in all societies known to us: the name.”44 As Hegel stated in his Phenomenology of Spirit: “For it is in the name alone that the difference of the individual from everybody else is not presumed, but it is made actual by all. In the name, the individual counts as a pure individual, no longer in his consciousness, but in the consciousness of everyone.”45

  • 46 Williams, Shame and Necessity, 69.

43The Greeks already knew that things that had happened to a person left their mark, indelibly, on the individual, on his future life, and his actions, whether taken voluntarily, accidentally or under pressure of force. “The whole of Oedipus Tyrannus, that dreadful machine, moves towards the discovery of just one thing, that he did it. Do we understand the terror of that discovery only because we residually share magical beliefs in bloodguilt, or archaic notions of responsibility? Certainly not: we understand it because we know that in the story of one’s life there is an authority exercised by what one has done…”46 The historian cannot subsume the documents related to István Szabó’s actions in the figure, the life, and the actions of Wilhelm Furtwängler, by overlooking the specificities of the character and the context. Although a work of history can serve as an allegory, it can have that function only if—as Marc Bloch defined history—it is about man in time; identifiable men in well-defined times.

  • 47 Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian (London: Verso, 1999), 14.

44The historians who uncovered documents about one-time informers of the communist regime, have often been accused of illegitimate moralizing. According to their critics, they are not entitled to moral judgment, to a “moral zoology,” as employed by Taine when he examined the protagonists of the French Revolution, with the attitude of a “supreme and imperturbable judge.”47 This criticism, in fact contains two assertions: 1. The historian does not, cannot, know all the relevant facts, and 2. the historian has no right to moralize, to judge. The two assumptions are naturally connected: the historian is not entitled to moral judgment since he is not in possession of all the relevant facts; some things always remain hidden from sight. Accurate philosophers would tend to define this stand as epistemological particularism. These are both reasonable postulates. The historian never knows all the relevant facts: important details cannot ever be recovered, some were never recorded in the first place, some are utterly misrepresented in the surviving documents, etc. All these factors make historical reconstruction extremely risky and difficult, but not, perhaps hopeless or impossible.

45There is an implicit and specific moral particularism at work here. The basic assumption is that in general the historian is never in a position to discover all the important and relevant facts, and this is particularly so when he is working with the utterly unreliable documents of the former secret police. A fact that can make a (moral) difference in one case, can make a completely different difference in another case. Facts—pertaining to possible moral outcomes—can have variable relevance (and the historian does not even know whether a particular fact, or the lack of it, is relevant or not). The same fact, depending on the complexities of the particular situation, can count either in favor of or against the behavior of the historical actor. In order to arrive at any moral conclusion it would be essential to comprehend all the relevant non-moral features of the historical event under scrutiny. The historian cannot say that what mattered in a particular case should also matter in another case. This emphasis on the specificities of particular—and never fully knowable—historical facts serves as a general blank acquittal from possible historical responsibility: the (unknown, undisclosed, unattainable, perished, destroyed) particular facts would shed a different light on the historical act, the (moral) consequences of which would be essentially different if all the facts could have properly been taken into consideration.

  • 48 Hilary Putnam, “The Craving for Objectivity,” New Literary History 15 (Winter, 1984): 230. Erich A (...)

46Although we usually do not know all the relevant facts—even in our ordinary everyday life—we are still able to form reasonable, usable opinions about incidents in the lives of others; despite the fact that those others are different from us, have a different gender, a different past, come with a different tradition, were raised in a different environment, have different reflexes, react in a different way. Historians, in each epoch, in a slightly or grossly different way, are trained to reconstruct incidents of the past on the basis of critical interpretation of only partially available sources and their connections. That is what historians are trained and employed, paid and read for. It is not only by aiming at absolute knowledge, based on all the facts, that the historian can achieve objectivity, which, nevertheless, does not equal certainty. In principle, the serious historian can have access to enough documentary sources to base his or her claims on secure foundations. (As Austin said, “Enough is enough, enough isn’t everything.”)48

  • 49 “Not only is interpretation a highly informal activity, guided by few, if any, settled rules or me (...)
  • 50 Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University P (...)

47Historical interpretation—despite all the hopes and efforts to the contrary—cannot be formalized in a mechanical way. (“The dream of formalizing interpretation is as utopian as the dream of formalizing nonparadigmatic rationality itself.”)49 The historian might fail, even if he or she tries to be faithful to the two virtues of truth: sincerity and accuracy, which become essential virtues and guarantees of serious scholarly work, especially in the absence of easily formalizable rules of historical reconstruction. (Accuracy is the virtue of carefully investigating and deliberating over the evidence for and against a belief before asserting it. And sincerity is the virtue of genuinely expressing to others what one in fact believes—in the case of history—on the basis of facts.)50 It is difficult to accept that the skeptics are in a better position to deliver the truth about historical reconstruction than history is in delivering a truthful account about incidents of the past.

48History writing—despite the legacies of the nineteenth century positivist credo—is not about recording what in fact happened exactly in the way it happened. Writing history, in my view, is radically different from the positivistic conviction. The historian, unlike the detective, the police officer, the investigative journalist, the prosecutor or the judge, is not supposed to reconstruct—beyond reasonable doubt—the incidents of the past. This would be a mistaken expectation. Rather, the historian, following accurate and professional research, should demonstrate the inherently uncertain character of any representation of the past. This claim has nothing to do with relativism: I am convinced that the historian should aim at unearthing historical truth. But the historical truth is that it is never possible to arrive at absolute reconstruction; uncertainty (in historical reconstructions) is an unavoidable part of the assertion of knowledge.

49Historians can offer only afterthoughts, and as in the case of any afterthought, the historian’s effort carries an unavoidable element of uncertainty; not only in the sense that historical argumentation can resort to conjectures and inferences: even the outcome of a historical investigation might, in fact should, remain, to a smaller or larger degree, devoid of absolute certainty. In consequence of this unavoidable element of historical reconstruction, the historian cannot usurp the role of the judge, and would do better to stay away from general moral judgment too. Still, accurately researched and sincerely stated uncertainties might provide protection from the dangers of unreflexive conviction of historical certainty, the mother of narrow-minded preconceptions and intolerance.

50Skeptics about the possibility of making the recent past intelligible, surprisingly, do not hesitate to make strong assertions about heroic figures of the distant national past. They have no difficulty portraying and attributing motivations to Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king, although the only surviving document of a more or less personal nature that could be connected to his person is his “Admonition” addressed to his son, and even in this case, the exact authorship of this Libellus de institutione morum that follows Carolingian models is highly questionable. Skeptics are more doubtful when the object of historical investigation is a figure of the recent past or a living person. The closer the historical actor in time, the more particular, the more complex, the less penetrable his or her motivations supposedly become; the task set for the historian is the more demanding, the closer we get to our present. Nevertheless, most of us, including the skeptics, living under the rule of law, accept the fact that judges, who deliver judgments of life and death, are entitled to administer justice although, as we know, not even the judge can ever be in possession of all the relevant facts. The courts, weighing the deeds and motivations of contemporaries, naturally make mistakes; justice is not exempt from occasional miscarriage, but if the possibility of ever arriving at an intelligible reconstruction of past events were denied to the court, as it is so often questioned in the case of historical reconstruction, none of us would have the chance to live under the rule of law.

51Still, the assertions of the skeptics are not without merit. By definition, the historian is always late; he never arrives in time. The historian arrives on the scene when the action is already irreversibly over; after everybody has taken their bets, and the immediate consequences of the act are already in existence. As the historian comes after the fact, he is in no position to intervene in a direct way, to change the course of events, to tell the protagonists what they should or ought to do. As Hume formulated it in his Treatise on Human Nature: one cannot infer an “ought” from an “is.”

  • 51 It follows from my reasoning that taking Foucault’s neologism, “history of the present” in a liter (...)
  • 52 Quoted in Henry Rousso, The Haunting Past: History, Memory, and Justice in Contemporary France (Ph (...)
  • 53 Hilary Putnam, Ethics without Ontology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 74.

52Being too late, however, is the right time for the historian to arrive to the scene, as it is always the perceived endpoint of the chain of events, which defines the starting point of the historical narrative. The historian begins the story with the knowledge of its presumed end in mind.51 This claim has nothing to do with the teleological assertion that the end provides the meaning of an event. The presumed endpoint of the story stipulates the starting point for the historical narrative. “Completed events present themselves to us with a much greater clarity than those which are in the midst of unfolding,” wrote Denis Foustel de Coulanges.52 On the basis of the available documentary evidence the historian is entitled to narrate that which most probably happened. What ought to have happened—although it concerns the historian—is beyond his or her reach. The available (and always partial) sources attest only to what could have taken place. As the pragmatist philosopher, Hilary Putnam formulated it: “The purpose of the historian cannot be to perform a speech-act of condemning long-dead [or even still living] persons; rather his aim is to make the historical event intelligible, and to do this he employs a description which is itself made available by a moral point of view.”53

  • 54 In the fall of 2006 Gábor Klaniczay curated an exhibition, Contagious Middle Ages, in the OSA Arch (...)
  • 55 Even in the case of some of the most prominent members of the East and Central European opposition (...)
  • 56 Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton: Princ (...)

53In societies that have recently experienced political transition, especially in the former communist countries, there is a special breed of doubters. Long decades of mostly ideologically driven, centrally commissioned, and censored historical narratives in the service of continuously changing political needs have gravely undermined the credibility of historical work. The loss of belief in the possibility of authentic historical reconstruction affects primarily the work of historians working on modern and recent historical events, but even medieval studies—as countless attempts after 1989 of constructing new Middle Ages in all the East and Central European countries testify—have not been spared blunt and wholesale revisionism.54 The opening (followed, in some countries by the renewed closure) of the archives after the fall of the Wall created the perception that “facts” that might prove the opposite of any openly stated historical assertion, are just there, hidden in the depths of the so far well-guarded archives, awaiting discovery, rescue, and reworking. Anything, even a retroactive historical miracle, might be possible, based on newly discovered relevant facts; the past should not forget the people of the new world who are waiting for an appropriate prehistory. The example of suddenly born-again conservative historians who—based on the very same sources—publish books with diametrically opposed vignettes, labels, classifications and conclusions to their previous works—turning enemies into martyrs, counterrevolutionaries into revolutionaries, former protagonists into antagonists—contributed to the loss of the aura of historical authenticity. Probably, the most significant reason behind the epistemic doubts, however, is the newly experienced instability of the self. In the face of the unexpected changes that contradicted almost all existential expectations, everybody’s life is now seen in a new light. Except for the few truly courageous members of the democratic opposition, almost everybody had to make his or her smaller or graver compromises during the long decades of a rule that mocked and undermined the respect and self-respect of human dignity.55 To acknowledge the past is not an easy thing for most of us. It is in this context that one is tempted to accept Ian Hacking’s over-paradoxical formulation: “It is almost as if retroactive redescription changes the past.”56 The rejection of any alleged attempt at moralizing should be understood from this perspective. Hiding behind the veil of historical particularism, the specificities of the (partly unknown and unknowable) historical circumstances that purportedly prevent any generalizable moral conclusion, is a byproduct of the post-transition predicament.

  • 57 In Putnam’s words: “A being with no values would have no facts either.” Hilary Putnam, Reason, Tru (...)

54In the overpoliticized atmosphere of the former communist world, moral judgments about historical events have always been suspected either of being politically motivated or of having a hidden political agenda. Historical arguments, in East and Central Europe, were used in the twentieth century, and even earlier, in deciding highly contested political issues. Insistence on the privileged nature of historical particularities has served to keep the space for politically charged arguments and counterarguments, accusations and counteraccusations, wide open. The issue of the former agent is an instructive case in point. Large segments of the political left, especially the supporters of the successor parties, who, in the face of revelations, usually feel, at least indirectly, implicated, customarily play down the political, social and moral significance of the detected act, especially if the person involved has remained—at least nominally—broadly faithful to his or her former political allegiance. In such cases, the case for the defense centers on the biographical particularities of the person (István Szabó was just nineteen years old when he was recruited); the relative and isolated nature of his deeds, notably in the light of his subsequent service to the country; the objectively patriotic nature of the act (as in the case of Péter Medgyessy, the Prime Minister, who had been a top secret counter-intelligence officer, who allegedly had to neutralize the Soviets at the time of Hungary’s entry into the International Monetary Fund); the popularity of the person (as in the case of the popular radio broadcaster, who commentated live when Hungary famously defeated England by 6 to 3 at Wembley Stadium in 1953). When the accusations affect individuals who are directly or indirectly connected to the political right, as with the revelations about prominent figures of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the arguments coming from the right either point at those groups which might have had a vested interest in the revelation (Jewish groups that supposedly conspired in the fall of Stanisław Wielgus, appointed archbishop of Poland); or, as opposed to the concrete deeds of the informer, they emphasize the role of the communist officers, who recruited the person in order to compromise him or his institution. The charged atmosphere turns ethical utterances into purportedly political propaganda. Nevertheless, as human beings with ethical sensitivity and as researchers who use documents in which description is intermixed with value judgment, the historian cannot avoid taking an ethical stance.57

***

  • 58 Rousso, The Haunting Past, especially chapter 1, “The Confusion Between Memory and History,” 1–24.

55In order to preserve the credibility of serious historical scholarship—especially in the milieu of extremely sensitive and self-destructively doubting post-transition societies—it is advisable for the historian to be particularly cautious with direct moral judgments—and also with claims about the certainty of reconstruction. In the midst of a “memory epidemic” it is important to maintain and emphasize the distinction between historians and activists of historical memory. Historical memory operates in the present; it maintains that the past is not past but an aspect of the present that can and should be redressed. Historical memory craves for justice: either legal or moral or both. Historical memory is an inherently moralizing attitude to the events of the past.58

  • 59 Hume, Treatise, Bk. III. Pt. I, Sect. I. Quoted by Nicholas Rescher, “How Wide is the Gap Between (...)

56It is useful in this context to turn the classic question whether one can derive values from facts around and ask: is it possible to use sources without confusing descriptive facts with evaluative judgments? The question is particularly pertinent for the historian writing for a skeptical audience. “As Hume remarked, a person who makes mistakes in factual matters is at worst stupid or incompetent, but a person who is mistaken in evaluative matters—e.g. who prizes what properly deserves to be disdained—would for this very reason be deemed perverse and wicked. But if evaluations could be derived from facts, so that erroneous evaluations would be mere mistakes in inquiry and information-processing, then this line of differentiation would be breached.”59

  • 60 “While the natural objects of the natural sciences are determined extensionally and explained caus (...)
  • 61 Counterfactual history, even if it is based on careful and reasoned argument, like Robert Fogel’s (...)
  • 62 Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (London: Penguin, 2001), 111. (Originally published i (...)

57The truth of a historical proposition is determined on the basis of relevant facts pertaining to extra-linguistic reality. This assertion needs qualifications: as we know, unmediated access to extra-linguistic reality is unimaginable even in the natural sciences. Value-laden choice of theory, of experimental object, research method, and equipment mediate between observation, experimentation, and the formation of scientific hypotheses. Research (even in the natural sciences) presupposes epistemic values.60 The skeptical insights of long decades of linguistic and cultural turnarounds in the humanities and social sciences should further caution the historian. Although the claim that ontologically a historical fact pertains to extra-linguistic reality can, most probably, be defended, the historian is still not in an enviable position, being specifically in need of documents closely related to language—even in the case of images—in order to gain access to external reality.61 Documents, broadly speaking linguistic sources that form the evidentiary base of historical scholarship, unavoidably contain both factual statements and value judgments. As Ayer remarked in his classic Language, Truth and Logic, an utterance or a sentence may at the same time make a descriptive statement and express an “ethical feeling.”62 Evaluation and description are mixed and often interdependent in the sources, which are usually overlooked by cautious positivists.

  • 63 Putnam, Reason, Truth and History, 128.
  • 64 Putnam The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 63 (original emphasis).
  • 65 “Proving facts is dependent on at least three factors. First, time: in some countries, it is not l (...)

58According to pragmatist philosophers, the distinction between facts and values is “at the very least hopelessly fuzzy,”63 and one cannot easily be “disentangled” from the other. “The terms one uses even in description in history and in sociology and the other social sciences are invariably ethically colored” argued Hilary Putnam.64 Although the radical positivist claim of a strict and clear fact/value “dichotomy” might be far-fetched, it would be difficult for the historian to overlook the fact/value distinction, especially since courts customarily distinguish two types of statements—facts and value judgments (opinions)—when deciding defamation cases against historians.65

  • 66 Jean-Denis Bredin, “Le Droit, le judge, et l’historien,” Le Débat 32 (November 1984): 111. Quoted (...)

59After the advent of positivism, historians became more careful in sticking to facts, and trying to suppress their unavoidable personal sympathies. What a typical French judge, unfortunatelly, holds desirable about a historian, is in fact a not uncommon view: “In the judge’s view, the image of the ’good’ historian [is]: meticulous, scrupulous, always moderate in opinion and tone, apparently neutral, without avowed passion, or irritating nerve. He resembles the good judge like a brother does.”66

  • 67 Paul Pellisson–Fontanier, Oeuvres diverses (Paris, 1735), vol. 2, 323–8. Quoted by Louis Marin, Po (...)
  • 68 Marin, Portrait of the King, 65, 70 (original emphasis).
  • 69 What Barthes meant by “reality effect” of literature was close to what is colloquially meant by th (...)

60It would be quite difficult nowadays to imagine a serious historian choosing Paul Pellisson-Fontanier, who preceded Racine in the office of the historiographer of Louis XIV, as the model of the ideal historian. Around 1670 Pellison prepared a project about a planned historical work on the king, which he sent to Colbert: “It is a fine field of speaking in abbreviated form of all the King’s virtues, and for enabling [the reader] to well conceive of his greatness in all sorts of ways. (…) The Historian and not the lawyer must explain the causes of the rupture and the King’s just claims. (…) The King must be praised everywhere but, so to speak without praise, by a narrative of all that he has been seen to do, say, and think. It must appear disinterested. (…) In order to be better believed, it should not give him the magnificent epithets and eulogies he deserves; they must be torn from the mouth of the reader by the things themselves. (…)”67 Even in the last third of the seventeenth century, the prospective author of “great history,” when trying to get the commission, felt the need to emphasize that his panegyric—“in order to be better believed”—would not obviously resemble a eulogy. But as Pellison conceives it, “history”—in Louis Marin’s words—“is the representational effect (and not the referential origin) of narrative. (…) It is by avoiding the panegyric that the panegyric extends its empire to the totality of the narrative thing, that it is the narrative itself.”68 In contrast to Pellison’s ambition, historians nowadays strive to attain what Roland Barthes called “reality effect,” the appearance of facticity that lends the aura of authority to historical narratives.69

  • 70 Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 22. “I am not going to understand ’ethics’ as the name of system (...)

61The historian is concerned. For historians who have a genuine interest in the topic of their research, the object of their inquiry is not only a matter of fact but also a matter of concern; and ethics can be conceived as a system of interrelated concerns.70 Historians too are moral beings, but as historians, they do not possess the professional tools that would allow them to moralize. The historian is late and can report only what has already taken place. In a well-functioning world, historians are paid to uncover what lays buried in the past, to help discover who we are by making relevant events of the past intelligible in a way that is verifiable. Historians are in the business of the concrete, the named, the particular and not in that of explaining what makes an act just or unjust in a general sense. That task is left to others; privileged among them is the reader of the historical narrative.

  • 71 Martin Hollis, “The Shape of a Life” in J. E. J. Altham, Ross Harrison (eds.), World, Mind, and Et (...)

62Historians are not well equipped to play the role of the moral philosopher, by using prescriptive, so called “thin” concepts like “good,” “bad” or “ought,” so “dear to moral philosophers, which supposedly reward the reflective search after truth and explain what it is about action (…) that accounts for its rightness or wrongness in universal terms.”71 The historian, fortunately, has not been left completely without tools to reconstruct past incidents in an ethically sensitive way, while at the same time preserving scholarly credibility. The solution, however, is not to oppose insistence on the particular with historical generalization.

  • 72 Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 19 (...)
  • 73 Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 35.

63As opposed to “thin” concepts like “good,” “bad,” or “ought,” our languages recognize so-called “thick” concepts that operate close to the ground. “Thick” concepts, like “treachery, promise, brutality, courage”—the examples which Bernard Williams uses in his deeply skeptical Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy—are more specific notions than those that could be defined as “thin” ethical concepts. Thick concepts—according to some philosophers—express an uneasy union of fact and value. “The way these notions are applied is determined by what the world is like (for instance, by how someone has behaved), and yet, at the same time, their application usually involves a certain valuation of the situation, of persons or actions. (…) [A] term of this kind involves a descriptive complex to which a prescription has been attached, expressive of the values of the individual or of the society.”72 There are philosophers who question Williams’s characterization of “thick concepts.” Some disagree about the precise nature of “thick” concepts; about whether they can or should be “disentangled,” about the nature of the fact/value dichotomy; how wide the gap is between facts and values; why “rich” descriptions are necessary and/or desirable; whether it is possible to provide a description from a moral point of view; whether the difference between fact and value is a difference between verifiability and meaninglessness, as the Vienna Circle held. All these concerns are not essential for the present discussion. Putnam argues that “thick” concepts “simply ignore the supposed fact/value dichotomy and cheerfully allow [themselves] to be used sometimes for normative purpose and sometimes as a descriptive term.”73

64These mainly, but not exclusively, technical disagreements among philosophers do not prevent the historian distinguishing between “thick” and “thin” ethical concepts. “Thick” concepts can be firmly attached to the description of events, making use of the factual basis of the sources, without resorting to mostly prescriptive concepts that cannot be factually verified by the documents. However, by using such concepts, the historian is capable of establishing his or her ethical position, without gravely undermining the factual foundations of the historian’s effort.

  • 74 “The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and the Ambitions of Ethics” in Bernard Williams, Mak (...)

65Williams is preoccupied with the limits and grave problems of moralizing the possibility of a general ethical theory; his interest does not lie in the options available to the historian, but in the critique of moral philosophy. One of Williams’ objections to existing theories of moral philosophy is that they neglect the specificities of the agent’s project. In an essay that preceded his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Williams argued that moral theories demand that we neglect our relationship to our projects, which “presents an insoluble problem to ethical theory.”74 The specificities of the projects and the actors’ relationship to them are exactly what historians are after; what might pose a problem for ethical theory is a distinctive advantage for the historian.

  • 75 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 141.
  • 76 Hollis, “The Shape of a Life,” 176–7; and Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 148.

66“Thick” concepts—Williams insists—are both “world-guided” and “action-guiding”: “A concept of this sort may be rightly or wrongly applied, and people who have acquired it can agree that it applies or fails to apply to some new situation. (…) Some disagreement at the margin may be irresoluble, but this does not mean that the use of the concept is not controlled by facts or the users’ perception of the world. (As with other concepts that are not totally precise, marginal disagreements can indeed help to show how their use is controlled by the facts.)”75 “Thin” concepts can be imagined as being far away from everyday actions, residing in the abstract value judgments of (certain kinds of) moral philosophers, while “thick” concepts occupy a middle position, a stance somewhat above the uncritical, unreflexive acceptance of local practices (which leads to complex ethical problems in its turn).76

  • 77 William’s reply to Simon Blackburn,” Philosophical Books 27 (1986).
  • 78 Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture” in The Interpretat (...)

67One would presume that Williams’ formulation of the juxtaposition of “thin” and “thick” concepts comes from the work of his Oxford colleague, Gilbert Ryle, the philosopher of mind. Thick concepts have been mentioned in philosophy from the middle of the 1950s (in the works of Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, and John McDowell), but the distinction between “thin” and “thick” concepts came into circulation after the publication of Williams’s Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy in 1985. We know from Williams himself that his “ethnographic stance” on the notion of “thin” and “thick” was influenced by the anthropologist, Clifford Geertz.77 Geertz, for his part, admitted that he had borrowed the notion of “thick description” from none other than Gilbert Ryle. “Ryle’s discussion of “thick description” appears in two of his essays: Thinking and Reflecting and The Thinking of Thoughts,” Clifford Geertz wrote, revealing the source of his thick description.78 The connection between “thick description” and “thick moral concepts” is not only philological and historiographical, but also theoretical, and this is what gives historians the chance to make exceptionally good use of them.

  • 79 Ibid., 9.

68A parallel reading of Williams’s and Geertz’s texts—that to my knowledge no scholar has attempted so far—seems particularly useful for a historian. Geertz’s idea of culture is compatible with Williams’s notion of “thick” ethical concepts: both are, to a degree, descriptive and prescriptive. “[W]hat we call our data are really our own constructions of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to,” claims Geertz,79 emphasizing that the empirical facts are themselves mediated through the way in which the actors involved in the historical incidents perceived and—unavoidably—evaluated their experiences. Williams argues:

  • 80 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 141–2.

How we “go on” from one application of a concept to another is a function of the kind of interest in what the concept represents, and we should not assume that we could see how people “go on” if we did not share the evaluative perspective in which this kind of concept has its point. An insightful observer can indeed come to understand and anticipate the use of the concept without actually sharing the values of the people who use it. (…) But in imaginatively anticipating the use of the concept, the observer also has to grasp imaginatively its evaluative point. He cannot stand quite outside the evaluative interests of the community he is observing, and pick up the concept simply as a device for dividing up in a rather strange way certain neutral features of the world.80

  • 81 O. O’Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue: A Reconstructive Account of Practical Reasoning (Cambridge (...)
  • 82 Jay L. Garfield, “Particularity and Principle: The Structure of Moral Knowledge” in Brad Hooker an (...)

69There are philosophers who argue that the nature of “thick” concepts, their saturation with descriptive elements, renders them non-transportable from one context to another, thus undermining moral universalism, and encouraging particularism.81 For historians this is not an insurmountable weakness of “thick” concepts, as the historian tries to refrain from judging the historical events under reconstruction on universal moral grounds. The historian aims, rather, to grasp the specificities of the situation. “Thick description cannot be cashed out in culture-or context-neutral terms, but rather implicates a rich set of values and commitments, which inform, guide, and motivate action.”82 And this is exactly what makes them attractive and suitable tools for those historians whose ambition is to grasp the peculiarities of a particular situation.

  • 83 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 142.

70It seems that Williams’s “ethnographic stance” made him receptive to the concerns and approach of the anthropologist, whose primary task is to describe and make intelligible what has taken place, what has presumably been experienced by the actors themselves: “The sympathetic observer can follow the practice of the people he is observing; he can report, anticipate, and even take part in discussions of the use they make of their concept. But, as with some other concepts of theirs, relating to religion, for instance, or to witchcraft, he may not be ultimately identified with the use of the concept: it may not really be his.”83

  • 84 Bernard Williams, “Truth in Ethics” in Brad Hooker (ed.), Truth in Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996 (...)
  • 85 Gilbert Ryle, Collected Papers, vol. 2. (Collected Essays, 1929–1968) (London: Hutchinson, 1971), (...)
  • 86 Ian Hacking, “Two Kinds of ’New Historicism’ for Philosophers” in Ralph Cohen, Michael S. Roth (ed (...)

71More than a decade after the publication of Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Williams wrote: “If we concentrate on thick concepts, we do indeed have something like the notion of a helpful informant.”84 “Thickness” thus is not just a style of narrating and focusing on the relevant details, not just concentrating on intentions, expectations, circumstances, and purposes that supposedly provide actions with their meaning—as Ryle asserted in his original papers85—but also the choice of appropriate “thick” concepts in appropriate contexts. Those concepts are suggestive: they keep the direction of the observation and description near the site of the action, closer to the ground, while behaving almost as if a local informer aided the work of the outside observer, who tries to make sense of the way in which the natives (of different localities or times or minds) are trying to give meaning to the actions of their world. “Concepts,” as Ian Hacking argued forcefully, “are words in their sites. Sites include sentences, uttered or transcribed, always in a larger site of neighborhood, institution, authority, language.”86

  • 87 Geertz, “Thick Description,” 9.

72Contrary to Williams’s implicit assumption, it is thus not automatic or merely a matter of language whether a word could or should be treated as a “thick concept”; “thick concepts” are made and determined by their site, their location in the course of the reconstruction of the event. A descriptive term, depending on the context and the intention of the user, may behave as a “thick” concept, while a “thick” concept may be turned into a moral concept if it is used in a specific “site.” As Geertz writes: “Analysis, then, is sorting out the structure of signification—what Ryle called established codes, a somewhat misleading expression, for it makes the enterprise sound too much like that of the cipher clerk, when it is much more like that of the literary critic—and determining their social ground and import.”87

  • 88 Ibid., 9–10.

73At this point, it becomes really difficult to distinguish the words of the philosopher from the text of the anthropologist. “The point for now is only that ethnography is ’thick’ description. What the ethnographer is in fact faced with (…) is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render. (…) Doing ethnography is like trying to read (in the sense of ’construct a reading of’) a manuscript—foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behavior.”88

  • 89 Stephen Greenblatt, “The Touch of the Real,” Representations 59, Special Issue: “The Fate of ’Cult (...)
  • 90 Ibid., 18.
  • 91 Ibid., 24.
  • 92 Hollis, “The Shape of a Life,” 176–7.
  • 93 Hacking, “Indeterminacy of the Past,” 124.

74Writing about Geertz—without mentioning Bernard Williams and the issue of “thick moral concept”—Stephen Greenblatt argues: “As Geertz’s famous essay deploys the term, however, thickness begins to slide almost imperceptibly from the description to the thing described. (…) Thickness no longer seems extrinsic to the object (…).”89 It was not due only to Geertz’s observational and analytic abilities that he was able to show that the complexities of the objects of his research were “actually inscribed in the textual fragments” he used. The fecund hybrid nature of those “thick” concepts he employed “helped to create as well as to disclose the effect of compression,”90 and it also stipulates a strong ethical commitment. The advice given by Geertz—“for [anthropological] theory [it is necessary] to stay rather closer to the ground than tends to be the case in sciences more able to give themselves over to imaginative abstraction”91—finds an echo in the supposition of the philosopher that “the middle distance is critical (…) where people do their best with what they are given.”92 “Thick moral concepts” might help in keeping clear of the moral high ground, close to the scene of action, where reflection on historical events does not threaten to rob thick concepts of their power to guide. An important looping effect is at work here: it is not only with the help of the “thick” concepts that the historian is capable of credible, meaningful and sincere description, but by aiming at sharply focused and intense historical reconstruction, it may also become possible to find the right conceptual tools. As Ian Hacking asserted: “Only by immersion in real-life complexities can one hope to get a clarification of language that fits lived experience.”93

  • 94 Geertz, “Thick Description,” 21.

75According to Geertz, one of the inherent characteristics of “thick” description is its “microscopic”94 nature:

  • 95 Ibid., 21, 23.

the anthropologist characteristically approaches (…) broader interpretations and more abstract analysis from the direction of exceedingly extended acquaintances with extremely small matters. He confronts the same grand realities that others—historians, economists, political scientists, sociologists—confront in more fateful settings. (…) The methodological problem which the microscopic nature of ethnography presents is both real and critical. (…) It is to be resolved—or, anyway, kept at bay—by realizing that social actions are comments on more than themselves; that where an interpretation comes from does not determine where it can be impelled to go. Small facts speak to large issues, winks to epistemology, or sheep raids to revolution, because they are made to.95

  • 96 Ginzburg and Poni, “The Name and the Game,” 4. In Geertzian fashion, Ginzburg and Poni state: “Mic (...)
  • 97 Greenblatt, “The Touch of the Real,” 18–9.

76It seems that anthropology, via moral philosophy, might offer a sort of solution for the historian caught in the web of the moral implications of past actions. Anthropology provides the bridge for the historian. “Anthropology has offered historians not only a series of themes largely overlooked in the past (…) but also something of much greater importance: a conceptual frame of reference, whose outlines we are only now beginning to make out,” wrote the micro-historians almost thirty years ago.96 The use of richly textured, intense, dense description, employing “thick concepts,” is not the privilege of micro-historians who have been practicing thick description for long decades; the issue is not only the scale but also the focus; it is not only the object of the analysis but also the attention that should be intense, nuanced, and sustained;97 the willingness to immerse oneself in the life of others might provide the language that, in turn, might help to find the concepts which, in the right place in the narrative, could assist the accuracy and sincerity of the historian’s enterprise.

77István Szabó, not unlike Furtwängler, decided not to emigrate, but to work as an artist and influence the situation from the inside. He made twenty-three films between 1959 and 1988, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, was appointed director of one of the state-owned film studios, and professor at the Budapest Film Academy. He received the Kossuth Prize, the highest Hungarian decoration for an artist as early as 1975. Emigration has been a constant theme of Szabó’s films. Already in Lovefilm (Szerelmesfilm, 1970) a Hungarian couple, who had been separated by the emigration of the young woman after the defeat of the 1956 revolution, meet in Paris and contemplate staying together, until finally the young man decides to leave his love and return to his home country, which is ruled by the restored communist regime. In Mephisto, Höfgen, the actor, also sees emigration as an alternative to the pact with the Devil, but he too decides to stay in Nazi Germany, giving up his artistic freedom, human autonomy, and dignity. Emigration and collaboration with the repressive regime play prominent roles in Szabó’s Sunshine (A napfény íze, 2000), in which Szabó, himself a Jew, recounts the experience of three generations of Hungarian Jews from the end of the nineteenth century until the end of the twentieth, living under successive fascist and communist regimes.

  • 98 For a curious interpretation of the text of Ad Helviam, see Arther Ferrill, “Seneca’s Exile and th (...)

78Emigration, exile—one of the oldest punishments and sources of human suffering—seems to be a descriptive term, especially if understood merely as a change of place, loci commutatio, as Seneca described it for his mother, rather disingenuously, in his Ad Helviam. (Seneca hated Corsica, which he referred to in one of his epigrams as “Corsica terribilis.”)98 Seneca did not choose, but was forced into exile by Messalina, the wife of Claudius.

  • 99 Lepenies, The Seduction of Culture, 50–1.
  • 100 Thomas Mann, Past Masters (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1933), 220.
  • 101 Thomas Mann, “Diaries, 14 March, 1934” in his Diaries 1918–1939 (London: André Deutsch, 1983), 200

79“When Gottfried Benn [the German writer and doctor, who never joined the Nazi party, physician of the writer, Carl Steinheim, Pamela Wedekind’s first husband] was asked why he had remained in Germany even after 1934, he replied that the idea of emigrating had never occurred to him. (…) When members of his generation left Germany, Benn said, they were not taking the political action of emigration, they were just trying to escape personal hardships and unpleasant circumstances by traveling elsewhere. (…) There was an anti-Semitic tone in the rejection of emigration and exile: a German could not possibly adopt what had been the fate of the Jewish people for centuries (…).”99 In July 1934, Thomas Mann speculated about the fate of the German people after the end of the Nazi regime: “Perhaps history has in fact intended for them the role of the Jews, one which even Goethe thought befitted them: to be one day scattered throughout the world and to view their existence with an intellectually proud self-irony.”100 In March 1934, Thomas Mann wrote in his diary: “The fact that I was driven away from that existence [the life he lived in Munich before emigration] is a serious flaw in the destined pattern of my life, one I am attempting—in vain, it appears—to come to terms with, and the impossibility of setting it right and reestablishing the existence impresses itself upon me again and again, no matter how I look at it, and it gnaws at my heart.”101

  • 102 Furtwängler tribunal proceedings (in English), December 17, 1946. Zentralbibliothek, Zurich.
  • 103 Chris Walton, “Wilhelm Furtwängler Apologia pro vita sua,” Dissonanz 51 (February 1997): 24.

80Furtwängler, unlike Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm, was never a member of the Nazi party. As he said at the de-nazification tribunal: “It was my task to help German music, for which I felt responsible. That would not have been possible from abroad. (…) The people who once upon a time produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and others lived on under the surface of the national socialist Germany. (…) I could not leave Germany in her deepest misery.”102 In the film Furtwängler claimed: “I walked a tightrope between exile and the gallows.” (A sentence—as one of the reviewers remarked—which nobody would dream of saying outside the bounds of a British stage.) In another memorandum, written in his defense in 1947, Wilhelm Furtwängler argued: “A single performance of a truly great German musical composition was by its nature a more powerful, more essential negation of the spirit of Buchenwald and Auschwitz than all words could be.”103 These words echo what Gründgens claimed in front of his de-nazification committee.

  • 104 “Levelek az emigrációból. I., 5 January 1924” [Letters from the emigration], Diogenes 1 (1924): 13 (...)

81In Taking Sides Szabó had Furtwängler state that he did not emigrate because he was not forced to, as he was not a Jew. In 1924, the Hungarian émigré sociologist, Karl Mannheim, tried to define the genuine emigrant in his exile in Vienna: “Who then, is the genuine ’emigrant’? Only he who finds contradiction between his world view and that of the regime irreconcilable. Among these are also included individuals who were not persecuted, who could have remained at home, but who could not remain at home precisely because they found the contradiction irreconcilable.”104 In Mannheim’s definition exile “thickens,” and from a descriptive term, turns into a “thick” concept.

82Mannheim would have considered Béla Bartók, the quintessential twentieth century Hungarian artist exile, a “genuine emigrant.” When Bartók died in 1945 in New York, homesick and miserable, Paul Henry Lang bade farewell to him in an obituary on the pages of the Musical Quarterly:

  • 105 Paul Henry Lang, “Editorial,” The Musical Quarterly 32 (January 1946): 131–6.

The philosophers are wont to say that a man can be characterized by the relationship of his intellectual and moral qualities, but they sometimes forget that mind itself, risen to a higher sphere, can become a moral quality, that the highest stature of mind can be synonymous with the greatest goodness, objectivity, and nobility. This noble mind was Bartók’s: courage to speak the truth only and everywhere, to understand dispassionately, and to forgive—a just attitude towards friend and foe that all of us admired in him in his last trying years of self-imposed exile. (…) Among his fellow musicians there were perhaps some whose imagination and passion measured up to his, but their mind and intellect occupied only a secondary place on their altar and often beat a retreat before more powerful deities, and not a few of them were carried away by political events or acquiesced in what they took for a vis major. (…) There were artists and men of letters who placed political “social,” and “national” slogans ahead of artistic and scholarly integrity, using such slogans to sit in judgment over the good reputation (and bread-earning) of their confreres. Even among the honorable exceptions there were many, in tortured Europe, who kept silent, rather than raise their voices in protest. (…) When all the furies of hell emerged from their hideous abode to plunge the world in misery and anguish, he voluntarily relinquished his prominent position, refusing to have commerce with the champions of hatred and destruction. Had he taken a passive attitude he could have remained the commanding figure of Hungarian—and European—music, for he could not have been denounced as a Kulturbolschewik, as a non-Aryan, or of inferior racial stock. But he could relinquish the eminent position due to him with a smile; he could leave it cheerfully, hand it over to someone unworthy of the honor…105

83Bartók did not leave smiling and cheerful, but sad and desperately shaken, when he sailed to America after his last concert at the Budapest Music Academy.

  • 106 Theodor W. Adorno, “The Aging of the New Music” in Essays on Music (Berkeley: University of Califo (...)

84The inflexible Adorno could barely believe his ears when listening to one of Bartók’s last public talks: “But even Béla Bartók, from whom such inclinations were very distant, began at a certain point to separate himself from his own past. In a speech given in New York he explained that a composer like he, whose roots were in folk music, could ultimately not do without tonality—an astounding statement from the Bartók who unhesitatingly resisted all populist temptations and chose exile and poverty when the shadow of Fascism passed over Europe.”106 For the elitist and uncompromising Adorno, the Bartók of the “late style,” the Bartók of the “Ukrainian Folk Song” and the “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” did not measure up to the ethical stand expected from a genuine emigrant. Bartók’s last artistic and human gesture of reaching back to his roots, his beginnings,—his Ansatzpunkte, as Erich Auerbach would have called it—to Central European folk music, to tonality, was understood by Adorno as giving up basic moral standards.

  • 107 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (London: Verso, 1978), 38–9.

85Emigration, exile, for the exiled and homesick Adorno—who after the war, nevertheless, returned to Germany—was neither a descriptive category nor a “thick” concept, but a genuine moral concept. In the famous eighteenth passage of Minima Moralia, writing on the refuge for the homeless, Adorno stated: “The attempt to evade responsibility for one’s residence by moving into a hotel or furnished rooms makes the enforced conditions of emigration a wisely-chosen norm (…) The best mode of conduct (…) still seems an uncommitted, suspended one (…) it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.”107 Although in this passage—despite its widespread misreading—Adorno means what he says, speaking about homelessness and the homeless, the loss of one’s house and private dwelling almost in a literal sense, the chapter from the first part of Minima Moralia is mostly quoted as a moral imperative addressed to the intellectual, who cannot be at home anywhere if he or she sticks to serious moral and intellectual commitments. This is how Edward Said, one of the most emblematic intellectual exiles of the past decades, understood and referred to it.

  • 108 Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002)
  • 109 “Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals” in Moustafa Bayoumi, Andrew Rubin (eds.), The Edwa (...)
  • 110 Ibid., 373, 379–80, respectively.
  • 111 Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” Granta 13 (Autumn 1984): 170.

86Said quoted Adorno’s dictum, “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home,” several times. In his collection of essays, Reflexion on Exile, he refers to it twice.108 In his 1993 Reith Lectures on BBC radio Said devoted a long segment to Adorno, once more referring to the eighteenth passage of Minima Moralia. According to Said, for Adorno the real intellectual is a permanent exile. “The exilic intellectual does not respond to the logic of the conventional but to the audacity of daring, and to representing change, to moving on, not standing still.”109 For Said, while exile is an actual condition, it is also “a metaphorical condition”; “the pattern that sets the course for the intellectual as outsider is best exemplified by the condition of exile, the state of never being fully adjusted, always feeling outside the chatty, familiar world inhabited by natives (…)” Wrong life cannot be lived rightly, warned Adorno in Minima Moralia, and according to Said, the life that can be lived rightly is the life of the exiled, the marginalized: “For the intellectual an exilic displacement means being liberated from the usual career. (…) Even if one is not an actual immigrant or expatriate, it is still possible to think as one, to imagine and investigate in spite of barriers, and always to move away from the centralizing authorities towards the margins (…).”110 Words become particular concepts in their sites; in the context of Said’s texts, the concepts of exile and emigration leave their descriptive character behind and take on forceful moral quality. Being out of place—the title of Said’s autobiography—is not a spatial but an ethical status, “not a privilege but an alternative to the mass institutions that dominate modern life.”111

  • 112 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979), 258–60.

87Adorno was not Said’s only exiled hero; three others appear in several of his writings: Hugh of St. Victor, Dante and Erich Auerbach. The three exemplary lives appear together in several of Said’s works, among them in Orientalism.112 The three figures, in fact, merge in one person: Erich Auerbach.

  • 113 Originally written in 1952. Translated by Edward and Maire Said, Centennial Review 13 (1969): 1–17 (...)
  • 114 In an interview Said gave to Boundary 2, he said: “I find myself, in a funny way, sort of living t (...)

88Hugh of St. Victor, the twelfth-century scholastic theologian who was born in Saxony but lived most of his life in the monastery of St. Victor in Paris, shows up in one of Auerbach last essays, Philology and Weltliteratur, which Edward Said translated together with his wife. Auerbach quotes a short passage from Hugh’s Didascalicon: “It is therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about invisible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is a foreign land [perfectus vero cui mundus totus exilium est.]”113 Said used and quoted (several times in different texts) this short passage of the mystic philosopher, via Auerbach, as his ars poetica.114

  • 115 Erich Auerbach, Dante als Dichter der irdischen Welt (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1929) and the “Farinate (...)

89Auerbach wrote his first major work on Dante, the Florentine exile, to whom he devoted the most exalted parts in his Mimesis.115 In the introduction written for the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Mimesis, Said claimed that Auerbach’s book on Dante was his most exciting and intense work. Even in Auerbach’s Dante what interests Said is the supposed tension between the Christian poet and the Jewish philologist, writing in exile, in the Orient, about the exiled seminal figure of the West:

  • 116 Edward Said, “Introduction” to Auerbach’s Mimesis, xvii–xviii.

It is not hard to detect a combination of pride and distance as he [Auerbach] describes the emergence of Christianity in the ancient world as the product of prodigious missionary work undertaken by the apostle Paul, a diasporic Jew converted to Christ. The parallel with his own situation as a non-Christian explaining Christianity’s achievement is evident, but so too is the irony that, in so doing, he travels from his roots still further. Most of all, however, in Auerbach’s searingly powerful and strangely intimate characterization of the great Christian Thomist poet Dante—who emerges from the pages of Mimesis as the seminal figure in Western literature—the reader is inevitably led to the paradox of a Prussian Jewish scholar in Turkish, Muslim, non-European exile handling (perhaps even juggling) charged, and in many ways irreconcilable, sets of antinomies that, though ordered more benignly than their mutual antagonism suggests, never lose their opposition to each other.116

  • 117 Auerbach, Mimesis, 557.

90It is difficult to avoid the impression that what made Auerbach Said’s hero in exile in the first place, was just a very short and modest passage, written as if in self-defense, on the last page of the Epilogue to Mimesis. “(…) I should especially have liked to add a special chapter on German realism of the seventeenth century. But the difficulties were too great. As it was, I had to deal with texts ranging over three thousand years, and I was often obliged to go beyond the confines of my own field, that of the romance literatures. I may also mention that the book was written during the war and in Istanbul, where the libraries are not well equipped for European studies.”117

  • 118 Edward Said, “Secular Criticism” (1983) included in his The Word, the Text, and the Critic (Cambri (...)

91Istanbul was not Auerbach’s choice: when he was forced to give up his position at the University of Marburg in 1936, he received an invitation to teach Romance languages and literature at the University of Istanbul. It would be wrong to claim that Auerbach’s move was merely a change of place, loci commutatio. For Said, the author of Orientalism, Auerbach’s location is more than a historical accident or necessity; it is the appropriate condition for the engaged and critical intellectual, the precondition of meaningful intellectual work. “At this point then, Auerbach’s epilogue to Mimesis suddenly becomes clear: ’it is quite possible that the book owes its existence to just this lack of rich and specialized library.’ In other words, the book owed its existence to the very fact of Oriental, non-Occidental exile and homelessness. And if this is so, then Mimesis itself is not, as it has so frequently been taken to be, only a massive reaffirmation of the Western cultural tradition, but also a work built upon a critically important alienation from it, a work whose conditions and circumstances of existence are not immediately derived from the culture it describes with such extraordinary insight and brilliance but built rather on an agonizing distance from it.”118

  • 119 Auerbach, Mimesis, 557.

92I have not quoted the whole passage of Auerbach’s “self-defense” in the Epilogue of Mimesis. The text continues: “International communications were impeded; I had to dispense with almost all periodicals, with almost all the more recent investigations, and in some cases with reliable critical editions of my texts. (…) The lack of technical literature and periodicals may also serve to explain that my book has no notes. Aside from the texts, I quote comparatively little, and that little it was easy to include in the body of the book. On the other hand it is quite possible that the book owes its existence to just this lack of a rich and specialized library. If it had been possible for me to acquaint myself with all the work that has been done on so many subjects, I might never have reached the point of writing.”119 Said understands Auerbach’s words as a conscious attempt to turn necessity into virtue: the isolated existence forced him to find a method whereby he could rely only on the available classical texts, and still reconstruct whole lives and a whole world from the fragments. At this point, it is not only his life in exile that makes Auerbach an exemplary figure for Said, but also the method—which in Said’s reading is directly connected to the state and life of the exile. Said’s insight into Auerbach’s method—independent of its relation to the exiled condition—is relevant for the larger theme of my essay.

  • 120 Ibid., xiii.
  • 121 Ibid., xxi (emphasis is mine).

93In his introduction to Mimesis Said tried to summarize and understand Auerbach’s working method. “In order to be able to understand a humanistic text, one must try to do so as if one is the author of that text, living the author’s reality, undergoing the kind of life experiences intrinsic to his or her life (…).”120 To make the past intelligible the researcher should get immersed in the world of the past, to reconstruct it by the help of appropriate dense description, in order to achieve intensity. Said emphasizes Auerbach’s “extraordinary attention to the minute, local details,” and even evokes the term “thick” when describing Auerbach’s research method: “to accomplish a greater realism, a more substantial ’thickness’ (to use a term from current anthropological description).”121

94The introduction reproduces a long passage from the main text of Mimesis:

  • 122 Ibid., xxvii–xxviii (originally from 443–4.)

When people realize that epochs and societies are not to be judged in terms of a pattern concept of what is desirable absolutely speaking but rather in every case in terms of their own premises; (…) when, finally, they accept the conviction that the meaning of events cannot be grasped in abstract and general forms of cognition and that the material needed to understand it [must be sought] (…) in the depths of the workaday world and its men and women, because it is only there that one can grasp what is unique, what is animated by inner forces, and what, in both concrete and a more profound sense, is universally valid: then it is to be expected that those insights will also be transferred to the present and that, in consequence the present too will be seen as incomparable and unique, as animated by inner forces and in a constant state of development; in other words, as a piece of history whose everyday depths and total inner structure lay claim to our interest both in their origins and in the direction taken by their development.122

95In his Appendix: Epilegomena To Mimesis, Auerbach attempted once more to explain his method:

  • 123 Ibid., 572–3. First published in Romanische Forschungen 65 (1953): 1–18. Translated by Jan M. Ziol (...)

My effort for exactitude relates to the individual and the concrete (…). The arranging must happen in such a way that it allows the individual phenomenon to live and unfold freely. Were it possible, I would not have used any generalizing expressions at all, but instead I would have suggested their thought to the reader purely presenting sequence of particulars. (…) It is in the nature of our subject that our general concepts are poorly differentiable and are undefinable. Their worth—the worth of concepts such as classic, Renaissance, mannerism, baroque, enlightenment, Romanticism, realism, symbolism, and so forth, most which originally designate literary epochs or groups, but which are also applicable far beyond those—accordingly, their worth consists in that they elicit in readers or hearers a series of ideas that facilitate for them an understanding of what is meant in the particular context. They are not exact (…). One must beware, it seems to me, of regarding the exact sciences as our model; our precision relates to the particular.123

  • 124 Ibid., 548.
  • 125 Carlo Ginzburg, “Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory,” Critical Inquiry(...)
  • 126 Carlo Ginzburg, “Conversations with Orion,” Perspectives Online 45 (2005), at: www.historians.org/ (...)

96Said pays particular attention to one of the most peculiar features of Auerbach’s methodology: “In comparing himself to modern novelists such as Joyce and Woolf, who re-create a whole world out of random, usually unimportant moments, Auerbach explicitly rejects a rigid scheme, a relentless sequential movement, or fixed concepts as instruments of study. ’As opposed to this,’ he says near the end, ’I see the possibility of success and profit in a method which consists in letting myself be guided by a few motifs which I have worked out gradually and without a specific purpose’ (…).”124 This insistence on a few seemingly insignificant and random motifs that Said emphasizes is precisely that aspect of Auerbach’s method which made him important for Carlo Ginzburg, the conscious practitioner of “thick” description: “My approach to microhistory is strongly indebted to the work of scholars like Erich Auerbach (…) who developed interpretations of literary and painterly artifacts based on clues others had considered insignificant. (…) A life chosen at random can make concretely visible the attempt to unify the world, as well as some of its implications. In saying this I am echoing Auerbach.”125 In another piece, Ginzburg reasserts: “As Erich Auerbach wrote half a century ago, in a world like ours, which knowledge can no longer control, research should not proceed from broad conceptual categories but from concrete starting points (Ansatzpunkte), intuitively acquired and then thoroughly investigated: concrete points and, I would add, random.”126 I do not insist on randomness (nor does Ginzburg, who adds: “But of course I do not regard this as a rule”); what emerges as important for me from this long detour in Auerbach’s company is the suspicion of broad, general conceptual categories, the insistence on the concrete, the individual that acquires its meaning in the particular historical context, the development from the starting point as defined by the perceived end-point of the complex historical incident.

***

97In his introduction to Mimesis Said devotes a passage to Goethe—who figures prominently in Auerbach’s book—where he writes affectionately about Goethe’s cycle of intimate love poems, the “West-Östlicher Diwan,” inspired by verses of the Koran and by the German translation of the Persian poet, Shams-od-Din Muhhamad Hafiz (or Hafez). Edward Said was an accomplished pianist; in his early years, he attended the Julliard School of Music. He published texts on music, collected in volumes of essays (Musical Elaborations, On “Late Style”). He befriended the Argentinian-born Jewish pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim, then the musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which, in 1948 rejected Furtwängler for his Nazi past. (Their public conversations on music held at the Carnegie Hall in New York were published as Parallels and Paradoxes). Goethe’s poem suggested the name for a musical ensemble—the “West-Eastern Divan”—founded by Said and Barenboim, comprising young Israeli and Palestinian musicians, who set up an international musical summer camp and gave concerts together all over the world, including Israel and the Palestinian territory. The project was originally conceived in Weimar near to Buchenwald on the 250th anniversary of Goethe’s birth.

  • 127 Edward Said, Out of Place (London: Granta Books, 1999), 102 (original emphasis).

98Both Barenboim and Said had formative experiences related to Furtwängler in their childhood. At the age of eleven Barenboim met and played for Furtwängler, who then wrote: “The eleven-year-old Daniel Barenboim is a phenomenon.” Said, as a child, was taken by his parents to one of Furtwängler’s concerts in Cairo: “This was the overpowering musical performance of my first twenty-two years of life, approached only when in 1958 I heard the opening measures of Das Rheingold rising out of the black Bayreuth pit,” recalled Said in his memoirs.127 Furtwängler conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, and he gave two concerts. The two-day program included, apart from Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony, Mozart’s G-minor, and Beethoven’s Fifth symphonies, Bruckner’s Seventh (with the Adagio that had been played on German radio under Furtwängler’s baton when Hitler’s suicide was announced). “My parents drew the obvious conclusion that only the first program was suitable for me, and it may have been the unknown ’Bruckner’ that put them off,” remembered Said. Beethoven’s Fifth had a lasting impact on Said. Said devotes three pages of his autobiography to his Furtwängler experience, which end with:

  • 128 Ibid., 104.

On my fifteenth birthday in 1950, my parents had given me Percy Scholes’ Oxford Companion to Music, which I still own, and which had a tiny entry for Furtwängler (“German conductor born in 1866; see Germany and Austria”) that elaborated upon a bit in a general but very oblique discussion of music under the Third Reich, and Furtwängler’s role in the Mathias der Maler case. This gave no sense of why he was so controversial a figure after the war, or that the question of morality and collaboration had so powerful a bearing on him.128

  • 129 Edward Said, “Why Barenboim was Right to Conduct Wagner in Israel: Better to Know,” Le Monde diplo (...)
  • 130 Ibid.

99Daniel Barenboim lives in Berlin, where in the past years, he has conducted the Berlin Staatskapelle. On July 7, 2001 the Staatskapelle was scheduled to perform at the Israeli Festival in Jerusalem. Barenboim decided to include the first act of Wagner’s Walküre as part of the program; one of the singers would have been Placido Domingo. A public outcry forced Barenboim to change the original plans, and instead of Wagner, he included Schumann and Stravinsky. A week before the concert, Barenboim held a press conference, which was, it is said, interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. The following week, at the end of the Staatskapelle concert, Barenboim, supposedly influenced by the incident during the press conference, turned to the audience and offered a short extract from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde as an encore. As Edward Said described the event in a piece he wrote for Le Monde diplomatique: after the scandal that erupted following the concert, Barenboim “opened the floor for discussion [that lasted for half an hour]. In the end, Barenboim said he would play the piece but suggested that those who were offended could leave, which some did. By and large, the Wagner was well received by a rapturous audience of about 2800.”129 Ehud Olmert, the future Prime Minister, then the mayor of Jerusalem, denounced Barenboim as “brazen, arrogant, uncivilized, and insensitive.” Barenboim had to apologize. In the piece written in defense of his friend, Said returned to Adorno, and his Auerbach thesis: “Barenboim is at home everywhere and nowhere. (…) One can imagine that for many Jews for whom Germany still represents what is most evil and anti-Semitic, Barenboim’s residence there is a difficult [issue to accept], especially as his chosen area of music to perform is the classical Austro-Germanic repertory, in which Wagner’s operas are at the centre (in this he follows Wilhelm Furtwängler, the greatest German conductor of the 20th century, also a complex political figure).”130

  • 131 “Barenboim Pitches into Blair over Handling of Middle East Peace Deals,” Guardian Unlimited (30 No (...)

100In March 2003, Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle were honored with the Wilhelm Furtwängler-Preis. In December 2004 Barenboim, leading the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted Furtwängler’s symphony No.2. When asked about the choice of the program, Barenboim said: “Furtwängler understood sound in a way no other interpretive musician had managed to achieve. He understood music as something that integrates everything—intellect, sentiment and sensuality. Furtwängler was not a Nazi.”131 In István Szabó’s Taking Sides the investigator asks Furtwängler: “Why didn’t you get out in 1933, when all the others, Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Max Reinhardt left? They were right to leave,” Furtwängler answers, “they were Jews. I am a German; I stayed in my homeland.” At this point Furtwängler decides to leave the room. Major Arnold’s assistant, the German-Jewish-born, American-raised Lt. David Wills, whose parents were left behind in Gemany and perished in a concentration camp, runs after the conductor. When he catches Furtwängler in the corridor, he says: “When I was a child, my father took me to one of your concerts. I remember, you conducted Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I was deeply moved. I have loved music ever since. I was grateful to you. And I admired you. How could you, how could you serve those criminals?” The film ends with an archive recording of Furtwängler conducting Beethoven’s Fifth.

Notes

1 László Eörsi, Köztársaság tér 1956 [Republic Square 1956] (Budapest: 1956 Institute, 2006), 80.

2 András Gervai, “Egy ügynök azonosítása” [The identification of an informer], Élet és Irodalom 50 (27 January 2006).

3 István Szabó, “Szembesítés” [Taking sides], Népszabadság (27 January 2006), available at www.nol.hu/cikk/392171/ (accessed 28 March, 2007).

4 Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 78.

5 Gabrielle Taylor, Pride, Shame and Guilt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 81.

6 Williams, Shame and Necessity, 220.

7 Ibid., 221–2.

8 Ki a ballonkabátos férfi?” [Who is the man in raincoat?], Népszabadság (30 January 2006), available at www.nol.hu/cikk/392467/ (accessed 28 March, 2007).

9 Zsolt Kézdi–Kovács, “Jelentek” [I report], Élet és Irodalom 50 (3 February 2006).

10 “Interview with György Hoffmann, photographer on 21 August 2006,” http://1956.mti.hu/Pages/Hoffmann.aspx (accessed 27 March, 2007).

11 “Mephisto: István Szabó and the ’Gestapo of Suspicion,’” John W. Hughes’ interview with István Szabó. Film Quarterly 35 (Summer 1982): 13.

12 Klaus Mann wrote the book in exile in Amsterdam and it was originally published in 1936 in the Netherlands. The first German edition was published in 1956 by the East German Aufbau Verlag. In 1964 a West German publishing house in Munich announced plans to publish the book in the Federal Republic, but at that point Peter Gorski, Gründgens’s companion and adopted son, the director of the film version of Mephisto, decided to sue the publishing house in order to prevent the publication, which—in his view—would violate the honor, the reputation and the memory of his father. Although the court first rejected the claim, the appeal court accepted Gorski’s case, on the curious ground that “The public is not interested in receiving a false picture of the theatre after 1933 from the standpoint of an emigrant.” The German Federal Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and at this point, the publisher went to the German Constitutional Court arguing that the ruling was an infringement of his constitutional rights. The Constitutional Court, in its famous “Mephisto Decision,” insisted that an individual’s death does not put an end to the obligation of a country to protect that individual against the violation of his or her human dignity. Thus, the protection of Gründgens’s honor had priority over the freedom of (artistic) expression. See Götz Böttner, “Protection of Honour of Deceased Persons: A Comparison between the German and Australian Legal Situation,” Bond Law Review 13 (1 June 2001): 109–35. Klaus Mann’s Mephisto was finally published in West Germany as late as 1980.

13 Klaus Mann, “What’s Wrong with anti–Nazi films?” Decision (August 1941): 27–35.

14 According to the 1961 edition of the Merriam–Webster Third New International Dictionary, the term “serial murderer” was first used by Kracauer, when discussing the character played by Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M.

15 Wolf Lepenies attributes the fact that while “in 1949, the majority of Germans considered Faust the most important character in Goethe’s drama, … fifty years later Mephistopheles had sneaked into first place—if only in the West[ern part of Germany],” to the fact that Gründgens’s Mephistopheles both on stage and on screen was superior to the performance of Will Quadflieg, who played Faust in the Hamburg performance and in the film. The film was a huge success in West Germany at the time. The Seduction of Culture in German History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 155.

16 Stefan Steinberg, “Die Rehabilitierung von Gustaf Gründgens,” available at http:// wsws.org/de/2000/jan2000/ (accessed 27 January, 2007).

17 Quoted by John W. Hughes, “Mephisto,” 14.

18 Lawrence Van Gelder, “ ’Mephisto.’ Tracks the Dark Ascent of a Nazi Collaborator,” The New York Times (March 21, 1982).

19 Ibid., 1.

20 Ibid., 4.

21 John W. Hughes, “Mephisto,” 18 and 14, respectively.

22 Thomas Mann, “This Man is my Brother,” Esquire 11 (1939). Quoted by Wolf Lepenies in The Seduction of Culture In German History, 46.

23 Wolf Lepenies, “The End of ’German Culture,’” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Harvard University, November 3–5, 1999 available at www. tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/lepenies_01.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2007).

24 Ibid., 174–5.

25 Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the German Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974). Stern remarks in a long footnote: “During both world wars, German intellectuals pictured the Allied Powers as the protagonists of civilization and as the enemies of culture, represented chiefly by Germany. The most regrettable example of the specious antithesis appeared in Thomas Mann’s Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [originally published in 1918].” Ibid., 196.

26 Lepenies, “The End of ’German Culture,’” 177.

27 Lepenies, The Seduction of Culture in German History, 47. Lepenies’s culturalist approach to recent German history is itself, probably, symptomatic of the times. As George Mosse, the best–known historian of fascist culture and aesthetics argued: “Fascist scholarship has become increasingly aware of the role which aesthetics played in the movement’s appeal; and that exploring the link between aesthetics, politics and society could open up new dimensions in our understanding of fascism…The study of fascism is slowly emerging from the period when this movement was almost solely discussed from the point of view of socialist theory, anti–fascism, or parliamentary government—measured by the standard of other ideologies—to a time when we can take the measure of fascism on its own terms, investigating its self–representation, and attempt to grasp it from the inside out.” “Fascist Aesthetics and Society: Some Considerations,” Journal of Contemporary History 31 (1996): 245.
As Paul Betts put it: “One of the most curious things about contemporary academic culture is the amount of recent attention devoted to what is now known as ’fascist modernism.’ These days there seems to be no end to the intense international preoccupation with a subject that only a generation ago was routinely regarded as reckless and even repugnant, more recycled Third Internationalism than legitimate scholarship. This was especially true during much of the Cold War in Western Europe and the USA (…) What has emerged quite clearly since the events of 1989, however, is the extent to which these perceptions were products of the Cold War. Nowhere was this more apparent than in West Germany, where cultural imperatives often went hand in hand with political ones (…) Often this meant recasting fascist culture as a ’regressive interlude’ in an otherwise redemptive tale of modernism triumphant (…) While dissenting voices challenging the supposedly elective affinity of liberalism, progress and modernism could be heard with increasing intensity from the 1960s on, it is really the end of the Cold War that spurred new curiosity toward the shadowlands of modernism (…) Regardless of its scholarly values, this new literature certainly marks a sea change in historiographical attitude and approach. Where the Cold War scholarship on fascist culture by and large concentrated upon its diverse causes, the new trend inclines towards investigating its multiple effects (…) Of growing concern instead to many cultural historians these days is the extent to which fascist modernism—including its narrative forms, visual codes and/or political mythologies—continued to influence the reorganization of postwar life and culture (…) The dismantling of the Berlin Wall converted the Cold War into instant history (…) But it is not as if the ’rush to German unity’ rendered only the Cold War as the past: the same went for fascism and the second world war, whose legacies shaped the political and moral lives of the German republics.” Paul Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism: The Case of Nazi Modernism,” Journal of Contemporary History 37 (2002): 541–3.

28 Andrew Grey’s review of Sam H. Shirakawa’s The Devil’s Music Master: The Controversial Life and Career of Wilhelm Furtwängler. “Life of a Much-Maligned Conductor Examined in New Biography,” Journal of Historical Review 14 (January–February 1994): 1.

29 Max Auer, Anton Bruckner: Ein Lebens–und Schaffensbild (Regensburg: Bosse, 1936), 61–2. Quoted by Benjamin Marcus Korstvedt, “Anton Bruckner in the Third Reich and after: An Essay on Ideology and Bruckner Reception,” The Musical Quarterly 80 (Spring 1996): 136.

30 Leon Botstein, “The Future of a Tradition,” The Musical Quarterly 77 (Summer 1993): 155.

31 Ibid., 156.

32 Ibid., 156–7.

33 This episode, most probably, comes from Gustav Gründgens’s biography. In the course of his de–Nazification interrogation after the war in Chemnitz, one of the members of the commission, “a Soviet theatre officer, Arsenii Gulyga, argued powerfully in his favour. A condition for Gründgens’s liberation was that he used his talents to promote the theatre in the Soviet–occupied eastern sector of Berlin.” Gründgens was cleared, but soon he left East Berlin and moved to the West. In 1960, at the time of his retirement, however, he paid back his debt to the Soviet officer, by touring in Moscow and Leningrad, and appearing on the Soviet stage. See Stefan Steinberg, Die Rehabilitierung.

34 As opposed to the generally perceived apparently nonrepresentational surface of music, Bruckner—of whom Furtwängler was one of the greatest interpreters—figured prominently in the Nazi cultural pantheon. Mathias Hansen, “Die faschistische Bruckner–Rezepcion und ihre Quellen,” Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft 28 (1986): 53–61. “Both the image of Bruckner and his music were imagined to exemplify the essence of Aryan art and were thus enlisted in the campaign to legitimate Nazism. (…) Bruckner’s music was featured at overtly political events; each of Hitler’s speeches at the Nuremberg rallies, for example was preceded by the performance of a movement from a Bruckner symphony. Radio broadcasts were announced with the trumpet theme that opens Bruckner’s Third Symphony (…) Hitler even hoped to hold an annual Bruckner festival in St. Florian [where Bruckner lived] that would rival the prestigious Bayreuth Festival (…) the Nazi appropriation of Bruckner was extreme even by the standards of its time and place.” Korstvedt, “Anton Bruckner,” 132. In 1937, Bruckner (’s bust) was enshrined, personally by Hitler in the Walhalla, the German Pantheon. The Austrian Bruckner was used to promote and symbolize the unity and common destiny of Austria and Germany. “After listening to a recording of the Seventh Symphony given to him by Goebbels, Hitler is reported to have said: ‘How can anyone say that Austria is not German! Is there anything more German than old and pure Austrianness?!’” Quoted by Korstvedt, “Anton Bruckner,” 137.
The dubious philological and musicological ideas and ambitions that underlined the allegedly authentic complete Bruckner edition, Anton Bruckner, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe edited by Robert Haas between 1930 and 1944, contributed to the Nazi appropriation of the composer. As Leon Botstein remarked: “(…) the somber, dour, and frightening dimension that emerges from the ’classic’ Bruckner readings of Furtwängler, Karajan, and Wand” should be understood in the apparent extra–musical meaning of Bruckner’s music, that the complete edition of the 1930s and 1940s tried to promote by the suggested authentic and authoritative reconstruction of scores. Leon Botstein, “Music and Ideology: Thoughts on Bruckner,” The Musical Quarterly 80 (Spring 1996): 1–11.

35 Quoted by Christina Stojanova, “Taking Sides: The Case of István Szabó,” Kinema (Fall 2003): 4.

36 Samuel Lippman, “Furtwängler and the Nazis,” Commentary (March 1993): 45.

37 Fred Prieberg, The Trial of Strength (London: Quartet Books, 1991), 101.

38 Chris Walton, “Furtwängler the Apolitical?” Musical Times 145 (Winter 2004): 9.

39 Quoted by Chris Walton, “Furtwängler the Apolitical?” 13.

40 Paul Foss, Facing War: The Good, the Bad, and the Nazi. From the Great Conductors of the Third Reich: Art in the Service of Evil. DVD, 2005 Bel Canto society (BSC-D0052).

41 See Robert Nozick’s rather technical treatment of the characteristic features of objective fact in his Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World (Cambridge, MA: The Belknapp Press, 2001). Especially chapter 2, “Invariance and Objectivity,” 75–119. Nozick argues that a fourth and most fundamental characteristic of objective truth, namely the fact that it is invariant under various transformations, is what explains the three additional features of objective truth (accessibility from different angles, intersubjectivity, and independence), not only in science but also in other areas.

42 Bernard Williams, “What Was Wrong with Minos? Thucydides and Historical Time,” Representations 74 (Spring 2001): 1–18.

43 John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 165.

44 Carlo Ginzburg, Carlo Poni, “The Name and the Game: Unequal Exchange and the Historiographic Marketplace” in Edward Muir, Guido Ruggiero (eds.), Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 5.

45 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 309.

46 Williams, Shame and Necessity, 69.

47 Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian (London: Verso, 1999), 14.

48 Hilary Putnam, “The Craving for Objectivity,” New Literary History 15 (Winter, 1984): 230. Erich Auerbach perhaps went a little too far, when he asserted: “[I]n any random fragment plucked from the course of a life at any time the totality of its fate is contained and can be portrayed.” Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 547.

49 “Not only is interpretation a highly informal activity, guided by few, if any, settled rules or methods, but it is one that involves much more than linear propositional reasoning.” Putnam, “The Craving for Objectivity,” 237.

50 Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

51 It follows from my reasoning that taking Foucault’s neologism, “history of the present” in a literal sense—in the way Timothy Garton Ash uses it—is a misunderstanding. Foucault, on page 31 of Discipline and Punish (London: Penguin, 1991) introduces “history of the present” as a substitute or synonym of other similar neologisms of his, like “genealogy” or “archeology.” What Foucault wanted to do was to show how the past structured the acts, the reflexes, the way of thinking of the present. Foucault’s “history of the present” is not a presentist fallacy of projecting present meanings on the events of the past. Discipline and Punish aimed at identifying and isolating central issues of contemporary technology of power and tracing them back in time. “Many of Foucault’s histories fall under the category he designated ’history of the present.’ Of course, history is, by definition, about the past, but Foucault’s histories typically begin from his perception that something is terribly wrong in the present. His motive for embarking on a history is his judgment that certain current social circumstances—an institution, a discipline, a social practice—are intolerable. His primary goal is not to understand the past but to understand the present [this is why Foucault is not considered primarily a historian]; or, to put the point more precisely to use an understanding of the past to understand something that is intolerable in the present.” Gary Gutting (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), ii.

52 Quoted in Henry Rousso, The Haunting Past: History, Memory, and Justice in Contemporary France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 30. Henry Rousso is the director of the Institut d’Histoire du Tempts Présent (IHTP). The name of the institute is a translation of the German Zeitgeschichte, and it deals with the history of what in English is called the recent past. “History,” as Rousso said, “is supposed to bring the past into the present, but only to give us a better understanding of the distance that separates the two and an appreciation of the changes that have occurred in the interim.” Ibid., 8.

53 Hilary Putnam, Ethics without Ontology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 74.

54 In the fall of 2006 Gábor Klaniczay curated an exhibition, Contagious Middle Ages, in the OSA Archivum on post–1989 East, Central, and South–East European attempts of (re)creating and inventing a new Middle Ages. On–line version of the exhibition could be found at http://files.osa.ceu.hu/exhibitions/middleages (accessed 10 February, 2007).

55 Even in the case of some of the most prominent members of the East and Central European oppositions posterity tried to change the past, as shown by the charges against Lech Wałęsa and Jacek Kuroń in Poland, Andrei Pleşu in Romania, Gábor Demszky and György Konrád in Hungary.

56 Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 243. See also by Hacking, “Indeterminacy in the Past: on the Recent Discussion of Chapter 17 of Rewriting the Soul,” History of the Human Sciences 16 (2003): 117–24.

57 In Putnam’s words: “A being with no values would have no facts either.” Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 201.

58 Rousso, The Haunting Past, especially chapter 1, “The Confusion Between Memory and History,” 1–24.

59 Hume, Treatise, Bk. III. Pt. I, Sect. I. Quoted by Nicholas Rescher, “How Wide is the Gap Between Facts and Values?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1, Supplement (Fall 1990): 297.

60 “While the natural objects of the natural sciences are determined extensionally and explained causally, the way in which a scientific theoretical apparatus supports such explanations cannot be causal. Each theory—and the selection of particular theory over and against its competitors—presupposes normative values, such as coherence, simplicity, explanatory power, and so on (…) Already in the 1930s Neurath had distinguished between what he labeled the ’domain of determination,’ the level in which empirical evidence contributes to the theory selection, and the ’domain of underdetermination,’ the level in which social and political factors contribute to the theory selection.” Alexei Angelidis, “The Last Collapse? An Essay Review of Hilary Putnam’s The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays,” Philosophy of Science 71 (July 2004): 405. Hilary Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 31.

61 Counterfactual history, even if it is based on careful and reasoned argument, like Robert Fogel’s Railroads and American Economic Growth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964) is outside my concern here.

62 Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (London: Penguin, 2001), 111. (Originally published in 1936.)

63 Putnam, Reason, Truth and History, 128.

64 Putnam The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 63 (original emphasis).

65 “Proving facts is dependent on at least three factors. First, time: in some countries, it is not legally possible to prove the truth of statements about facts from the distant past (in France, older than ten years). The idea behind this principle is probably that it is not desirable to keep dragging up the past. It implies, however, that proof of the non-defamatory nature of a given statement cannot invoke the facts themselves (…). Opinions (or “comments” or “value judgments”) are not susceptible to proof because they do not fit a true/untrue scheme and therefore enjoy greater legal protection than facts.” Antoon de Baets, “Defamation Cases against Historians,” History and Theory 41 (2002): 347, note 5 (original emphasis). See also John Gilissen, “La Responsabilité civile et pénale de l’historien,” Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire (1960): 1012–5.

66 Jean-Denis Bredin, “Le Droit, le judge, et l’historien,” Le Débat 32 (November 1984): 111. Quoted by de Baets, “Defamation Cases,” 356, note 54.

67 Paul Pellisson–Fontanier, Oeuvres diverses (Paris, 1735), vol. 2, 323–8. Quoted by Louis Marin, Portrait of the King (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 39–40.

68 Marin, Portrait of the King, 65, 70 (original emphasis).

69 What Barthes meant by “reality effect” of literature was close to what is colloquially meant by the creation of illusion. It is worth comparing “the reality effect” with Edwin Chargaff’s “intensity,” “[T]he ability to concentrate one’s powers of imagination and execution so as to convey an overwhelming impression of reality.” Edwin Chargaff, Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature (New York: Warner Books, 1978), 175.

70 Putnam, Ethics without Ontology, 22. “I am not going to understand ’ethics’ as the name of system of principles (…) but rather as a system of interrelated concerns, concerns which I see as mutually supporting but also in partial tension.”

71 Martin Hollis, “The Shape of a Life” in J. E. J. Altham, Ross Harrison (eds.), World, Mind, and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 176.

72 Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 129–30. For a sympathetic but very critical reading of Williams’s book, see Samuel Scheffler’s review (who taught together with Williams in Berkeley) “Morality Through Thick and Thin. A Critical Notice of Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy,” The Philosophical Review 96 (July 1987): 411–34.

73 Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 35.

74 “The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and the Ambitions of Ethics” in Bernard Williams, Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers, 1982–1993 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 170.

75 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 141.

76 Hollis, “The Shape of a Life,” 176–7; and Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 148.

77 William’s reply to Simon Blackburn,” Philosophical Books 27 (1986).

78 Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture” in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 6. (The original title of the latter paper was “The Thinking of Thoughts: What is ’le Penseur’ Doing?,” originally “University Lecture no.18, 1968” at the University of Saskatchewan.)

79 Ibid., 9.

80 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 141–2.

81 O. O’Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue: A Reconstructive Account of Practical Reasoning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

82 Jay L. Garfield, “Particularity and Principle: The Structure of Moral Knowledge” in Brad Hooker and Margaret Olivia Little (eds.), Moral Particularism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 180.

83 Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, 142.

84 Bernard Williams, “Truth in Ethics” in Brad Hooker (ed.), Truth in Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 27.

85 Gilbert Ryle, Collected Papers, vol. 2. (Collected Essays, 1929–1968) (London: Hutchinson, 1971), 465–96.

86 Ian Hacking, “Two Kinds of ’New Historicism’ for Philosophers” in Ralph Cohen, Michael S. Roth (eds.), History and Histories within the Human Sciences (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995), 313. See also his Historical Ontology (Cambridge, MA—London: Harvard University Press, 2002), 68.

87 Geertz, “Thick Description,” 9.

88 Ibid., 9–10.

89 Stephen Greenblatt, “The Touch of the Real,” Representations 59, Special Issue: “The Fate of ’Culture’: Geertz and Beyond” (Summer, 1977): 17.

90 Ibid., 18.

91 Ibid., 24.

92 Hollis, “The Shape of a Life,” 176–7.

93 Hacking, “Indeterminacy of the Past,” 124.

94 Geertz, “Thick Description,” 21.

95 Ibid., 21, 23.

96 Ginzburg and Poni, “The Name and the Game,” 4. In Geertzian fashion, Ginzburg and Poni state: “Microhistorical analysis therefore has two fronts. On one side, by moving on a reduced scale, it permits in many cases a reconstitution of ’real life’ unthinkable in other kinds of historiography. On the other side, it proposes to investigate the invisible structures within which that lived experience is articulated,” Ibid., 8.

97 Greenblatt, “The Touch of the Real,” 18–9.

98 For a curious interpretation of the text of Ad Helviam, see Arther Ferrill, “Seneca’s Exile and the Ad Helviam: A Reinterpretation,” Classical Philology 61 (October 1966): 253–7.

99 Lepenies, The Seduction of Culture, 50–1.

100 Thomas Mann, Past Masters (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1933), 220.

101 Thomas Mann, “Diaries, 14 March, 1934” in his Diaries 1918–1939 (London: André Deutsch, 1983), 200.

102 Furtwängler tribunal proceedings (in English), December 17, 1946. Zentralbibliothek, Zurich.

103 Chris Walton, “Wilhelm Furtwängler Apologia pro vita sua,” Dissonanz 51 (February 1997): 24.

104 “Levelek az emigrációból. I., 5 January 1924” [Letters from the emigration], Diogenes 1 (1924): 13. Quoted by David Kettler, “The Vicissitudes of Exile.” Paper presented at a conference on “The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and After: Impact and Contribution,” Bard College, February 16, 2007.

105 Paul Henry Lang, “Editorial,” The Musical Quarterly 32 (January 1946): 131–6.

106 Theodor W. Adorno, “The Aging of the New Music” in Essays on Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 184.

107 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (London: Verso, 1978), 38–9.

108 Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

109 “Intellectual Exile: Expatriates and Marginals” in Moustafa Bayoumi, Andrew Rubin (eds.), The Edward Said Reader (New York: Random House, 2000), 381. Originally published as Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (New York: Vintage, 1996).

110 Ibid., 373, 379–80, respectively.

111 Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” Granta 13 (Autumn 1984): 170.

112 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979), 258–60.

113 Originally written in 1952. Translated by Edward and Maire Said, Centennial Review 13 (1969): 1–17. Hugh of St. Victor’s words come from Book 3, chapter 19 of Didascalicon.

114 In an interview Said gave to Boundary 2, he said: “I find myself, in a funny way, sort of living the way that passage describes—you know the passage I’ve quoted it many times—from Hugh of Saint Victor, where the person who is a stranger everywhere is somehow at home but not loving the world too much—you know—you’re moving on.” “The Panic of the Visual: A Conversation with Edward Said,” Boundary 2 25 (Summer 1998): 23.

115 Erich Auerbach, Dante als Dichter der irdischen Welt (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1929) and the “Farinate and Cavalcante” chapter in his Mimesis, 174–202.

116 Edward Said, “Introduction” to Auerbach’s Mimesis, xvii–xviii.

117 Auerbach, Mimesis, 557.

118 Edward Said, “Secular Criticism” (1983) included in his The Word, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 7–8. See also Aamir R. Mufti, “Auerbach in Istanbul: Edward Said, Secular Criticism, and the Question of Minority Culture,” Critical Inquiry 25 (Autumn 1998): 95–125. In The Word, the Text, and the Critic, Auerbach is the central figure. On the page preceding my quote Said wrote: “To any European trained principally, as Auerbach was, in medieval and renaissance Romance literatures, Istanbul represents the terrible Turk, as well as Islam, the scourge of Christendom, the great Oriental apostasy incarnate. Throughout the classical period of European culture Turkey was the Orient, Islam its most redoubtable and aggressive representative. (…) The Orient and Islam also stood for the ultimate alienation from the opposition to Europe, the European tradition of Christian Latinity, as well as to the putative authority of ecclesia, humanistic learning, and cultural community. (…) To have been an exile in Istanbul at the time of fascism in Europe was a deeply resonating and intense form of exile from Europe.” Ibid., 6.

119 Auerbach, Mimesis, 557.

120 Ibid., xiii.

121 Ibid., xxi (emphasis is mine).

122 Ibid., xxvii–xxviii (originally from 443–4.)

123 Ibid., 572–3. First published in Romanische Forschungen 65 (1953): 1–18. Translated by Jan M. Ziolkowski.

124 Ibid., 548.

125 Carlo Ginzburg, “Latitude, Slaves, and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory,” Critical Inquiry 31 (Spring 2005): 665–83.

126 Carlo Ginzburg, “Conversations with Orion,” Perspectives Online 45 (2005), at: www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2005/0505/0505arc1.cfm (accessed 15 March, 2007).

127 Edward Said, Out of Place (London: Granta Books, 1999), 102 (original emphasis).

128 Ibid., 104.

129 Edward Said, “Why Barenboim was Right to Conduct Wagner in Israel: Better to Know,” Le Monde diplomatique (6 October 2001).

130 Ibid.

131 “Barenboim Pitches into Blair over Handling of Middle East Peace Deals,” Guardian Unlimited (30 November 2004).

Auteur

István Rév (b. 1951) is Director of the OSA Archivum and professor in the History Department at the Central European University, Budapest. He has taught at the University of Chicago Law School; Jesus College, Oxford; the Political Science Department at Columbia University; the Anthropology Department at Princeton University; and on the History and Literature Program at Harvard University. He is the author of Economic and Social History of Hungary in the Period of “Socialism” (1990) and Retroactive Justice: Prehistories of Postcommunism (2005).

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