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            “Pictures of historical life” is a speech cliche which was frequently used in the XIX century. It suddenly comes back in the end of the XX century in works dedicated to the post-modernist historiography whose main thesis is as follows: the writing of history is a narrative, the stream of a structured text and inner images corresponding to it. In other words, a historian, just like a film director, can not avoid montage no matter how hard he tries to do that. He can only narrate, but understanding comes from the Evil One. I don’t agree with the latter, but I can not disagree with the former: the historian can not avoid interpretation (which is also form), direction, language, montage.

            Man is not only the herdsman of being as Heidegger said, he is also its interpreter: he interprets being as he can, according to what is called intention. One of the nuances of Husserl’s notion of “intentionality”, if I’m not mistaken, is mind’s orientation towards an object, its fatal resemblance to a vector. We choose what chooses (has already chosen?) us. I’ve recently seen a documentary where the main character said that “man is doomed for himself”. I am not a solipsist – God forbid – the communication of minds is a fact on which culture itself is based, but an a priori, preliminary tuning of our vision and the connected with it partial understanding of one mind by another is also a fact. There exists an a priori of perception which pre-conditions the way of “assembling” the world, its montage.

            Thus, conscience and world perception is a montage, an automatic or creative one.  History is also a montage. The Antiquity, the Middle Age, the Renaissance, the New Age, the XX century – all these epochs were cinema in their own special way. My task, as I understand it, is to try to present the vision of the world and history which corresponds to each of these epochs. And who knows, may be a historian and a documentary film-maker will somehow find common points.

            My review will only concern Europe since the historical culture is a European product; from Europe history as a science and a way of life spread all over the world. I shall start from the Antiquity. I won’t agree with Schpengler who wrote that the ancient Greeks didn’t know history and lived only by a myth. They had a lively, non-mythological sense of the present and they were clearly able to distinguish certain events in the time flow. Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius lived mainly “here and now”, out of the rigid correlation with mythological prototypes. They perceived life not as a simple reproduction of sacral gestures of the First ancestors and cultural heroes, but as a quite autonomous movement. And this is already called history. How was is “edited”? Now Schpengler is right: the Greek history wasn’t so much written by bronze sticks on boards covered with wax as it was “chiseled”, which corresponded to the “cultural” attitude to the world of this people.

            The antique historiography had a short breath which was enough only for the description of the present (as a rule, there was no wide retrospective and perspective historical background) and allows to observe Thucydides’s History as a stone line of “frise” (an ornament in architecture which represents a long horizontal line). Of course, it will be quite a continuous “frise”, accompanied with figures which are connected by a certain logic and way of moving. Thucydides sees the history through the prism of plastics, especially he sees in this way the protagonists of the historical drama. They behave really “sculpturally”: their speech and gestures are rhetorically normative, they admonish and may eventually lead to catharsis (so were perceived the characters of the Roman and Greek history in the XVI-XVIII centuries by some educated Europeans – from Montaigne to Rousseau and David). Actually, the sublime rhetoric of the Antique history’s characters was to a certain extent counterbalanced by the opposite side of the Greek life – an anecdote, a characteristic scene pictured on an amphora or a crater. Both the tragedy and the anecdote gravitated towards a visual fixation, a statuary quality, as if the Antiquity had a premonition of  what it would become for the late Europeans – a humane school, a sacramental collection of examples, precedents, samples, an “exhibition epoch” of Europe. I would even say its first “screen”.

            Unlike the Greeks and the Romans, the Middle Age started with “going underground”, the underground of catacombs, away from the tempting sight of culture. Even later, in the epoch of “mature” gothic, when the European West had turned back to the language of high architecture, to the therapy of the form, its cultural priorities remained “inside”, in the sacred place, in the “altar part”. The Antique culture in its essence was taken out of the equation, the Middle Age was introversive, its central event which was in principle within the capacity of seeing and conceiving was the Eucharist, the Mystery, something that is beyond the screen.

            The same happened with history. It has a right to exist, because God’s idea of the world is realized though it. But history can not conceive its own meaning; beyond it and after it is metahistory.  The history of the world and people, as it is understood by a medieval chronicler, is not substantial, - and it is not by chance that the most part of medieval world chronicles is taken up by the Holy history which set the tone to the whole narrative. On the background of the Holy history the historical events themselves seem a feeble epilogue, a copy of the original. Some chronicles of the XI-XII centuries resemble to a theater of shadows. A slow, hidden rehabilitation of time and events happening in it starts in the medieval historiography only from the XIV century. The medieval feeling of history forms the a priori of the beginning and the end: the most important for a medieval man happens before and after history and time. In this sense the medieval transparent screen where act not really people but archetypal figures looses to the antique one in color, the expressiveness of characters and the extent of autonomy of a historical action.

            At the same time the medieval screen is a mystery-screen with a powerful transvisual implication. The mystery can be turned into a sacral nothing, a transcendental point and back into death-resurrection, démontage-montage.  The mystery insists on the existence of the behind-the-screen. To my mind, the formal components of the cinema are people, things (natural or artificial objects) and time (I omit the non-formal and the most important – the talent which generates a sensation piercing the spectator). The same thing can be said about history. For the cinema or history (historiography) to take place, we need an attention to the drama of human destiny, i.e. an idea of a man as a personality, then – a meditative perception of things, the culture of contemplation which presupposes that things must not be a projection of human mind or senses, that they are independent and can not be grasped. A soiled thing can not tell us anything substantial. Here I contradict myself (“a historian can not avoid interpretation”), but this is a contradiction called life, a contradiction which is accepted without comments. Finally, the third thing: time must be free of pretensions of non-temporal (beyond-temporal) instances. Time without fingerprints, like in the case with things. Stop thinking about prerequisites, forget about the idols of sources.

            Neither the Antiquity, nor the Middle Age knew emancipated time, the time of things and people (the “short”, “direct” time of ancient Greeks in perspective was still mythologically twisted). Even later, in the Renaissance and the early New Age (XVI-XVIII centuries) the European culture remained highly ideological.

            I would call “the a priori of renaissance” a rhetorical one. In the renaissance historiography a well composed speech which substitutes an event rules even to a greater extent than in the antique historiography. If we believe the historians of that time, it’s the generals’ speeches that were crucial in the battle. The Renaissance discovered not only the world and the man, as it was said by Michelet and Burckhardt, but also Culture. For the first time in the European history appears a conception of autonomous culture. They left for culture as they left for a monastery or, rather, for an ebony tower. Culture was honored by the humanists more than reality, human passions were sublimated there; like in an alchemist’s retort, there took place a most important renaissance transmutation: the ignoramus turned into the sublime uomo universale.  

            Like in the worshipped by the humanists Antiquity, a static harmony prevailed in the renaissance culture. Unlike the sculpture-loving Greeks, the painters and historians of the Renaissance preferred to portray – either with colors or with quills. The renaissance screen is a picture, a rhetorically organized space. Time in the renaissance picture was portrayed with spatial means: the present day for the renaissance man often appeared on an architectural, quasi antique background. The cultural utopia of the Renaissance, embodied in the picture, reminds me of a drawn hearth in Papa Carlo’s tiny room: they were still far from  real time and real things.

            A certain advance towards things happened in the XVII century, when historians discovered the document, or, as they say, the source. As a result of a tremendous hunting for the reliable and trustworthy, there appeared a continent of historical facts. But this striving after authenticity only dealt with things operated by historians, not time. Facts were discovered and placed on the scale of abstract chronology. The latter is a falsification of time. In fact, things were just being collected (a collection a priori). But what is a thing out of time? A chitin peel. By the way, the same thing is observed in the XVII century’s physics – Newton’s one. Newton’s time (just like space) is a formal condition of being of things, they don’t actually interact.

            The XVIII century was brilliantly described by Michel Foucault in his Words and Things. He wrote about the tabular space of science which first of all represented an enlightened view of the world, the space where ruled the order. The reorganization of libraries, the creation of catalogues, repertoires, inventories, botanical and other classifications – all this expressed the spirit of the Enlightenment Age. The historiography of the XVIII century followed the natural sciences, the history was understood as part of the natural history. The real time was superfluous in this picture of the world, just like life itself with its spontaneity and unruly passions. The symbol of “life” in the XVIII century logically became a plant with its pistils and stamens which could be ideally classified, but not an animal.

            Only in the first half of the XIX century “life leaves the tabular space of order and returns into its wild state..” – wrote Foucault. The order of nature, intolerant to sudden leaps and ruptures, is intruded by the broken rhythm of historical time. The decay of the enlightenment paradigm puts an end to the unconditional rule of rhetoric in culture, particularly, in literature. Literature becomes personal, it “faces a wild and powerful being of words” (M. Foucault).

            The history fully experienced the liberating influence of the new century. I won’t exaggerate by saying that the historical way of thinking appeared in the XIX century. The social time of Europe was let through historiographical filters and there appeared historical cosmos. Time ceased to be an epiphenomenon and a function of space, it was becoming the principal character of culture. From now on a thing isn’t just moving along the arc of development, it is felt from inside as something fluctuating, changing its states. Incidentally, a perceiving subject, in this case a historian, attempts to understand the purpose of the thing, to see it with his mind and at the same time he experiences its metamorphoses as his own. “Only he can perceive history who experienced it inside himself,” – said Goethe in the beginning of the century. Friedrich Schlegel, who emphasized  the empathic and prognostic ability of the historian, wrote: “A historian is a prophet who turns to the past”. 

            Did “the century of history” have its big screen? If we talk about the European civilization, then, of course, it did: the Europeans viewed history as a movement towards civilization and “the century of progress” was the heir of “the century of reason”. Perhaps, the XIX century was the most optimistic in the European history: the faith in progress, characteristic of the XVIII century, was consolidated with industrial, democratic and scientific accomplishments in the XIX century.

            The historians of that time, whose vision of their subject was certainly more complex than that of their predecessors, could not, nevertheless, resist the charm of persuasiveness of gnoseologic optimism which was characteristic of the epoch. Like the leading German historian Ranke his European colleagues believed (Nota bene) that it was possible to describe “what really happened”. The authenticity of a historical fact, document, evidence was the Cornerstone of the historical way of thinking of the bourgeois century. The historians did not yet dispose of the philosophy of the document. The latter appears much later, in the conditions of the European civilization crisis which lasted until the middle of the XX century.

            How did the crisis and the accompanying  “reevaluation of values” (Nietzsche) affect the science of history? Very much like it did affect other fields of knowledge, art and literature (but not yet cinema). For example, the physicists discovered the relativity of the image of the electron on the monitor: nobody knows what an electron really looks like. The same with painting. In the period separating Cezanne from Malevich – less that three decades – painting  ruined old conceptions of mimesis, rejected figurativeness  and came to “the zero of forms” as Malevich explained the meaning his Black Square. In other words, the European culture experienced emptiness which was, nevertheless, productive. Due to this experience it managed to correct its former, mostly rationalist and metaphysical (in Comte’s sense) scenario, and came out of the crisis more mature and regenerated without destroying the Legacy. Behind the screen again, like in the Middle Age, was felt a certain creative abyss, but it was felt differently, more acutely, existentially, I suppose. It turned out that montage was conventional, that inside it bears démontage, and that only together they make up an integral whole, like light and shadow.

            Chamisso let us all feel what it is to loose your shadow.

            The same happened to history. The metaphysical faith in the document was ruined, which was predicted yet by Nietzsche’s words: “Facts don’t exist, there exist only their interpretations”. Just like their neighbors in the Noah’s Ark of culture, the historians eluded nihilism (the common sense tradition was too strong in Europe, unlike in Russia where the consequences of the European crisis were different) and did not give in to the temptation to rush into the deep. They found a few variants of compromise between the requirements of a scientific basis and the experienced relativity of the historical knowledge. 

            One of these variants, the most acceptable up till now, is the perfect type of Max Weber. According to his own words, it is a theoretical utopia, a conventional construct which, nevertheless, organizes a raw collection of facts into an intelligible object suitable for scientific research. For example, such notion as “bourgeoisie” is a  perfect type, because it allows to picture more clearly the social processes which took place in Europe in the XIII-XIX centuries. Historical facts which compose a perfect type resemble to electrons in physics, and a historian with his convictions and prejudices can not be withdrawn from the research procedure just like can not be withdrawn a naturalist who realizes the insufficiency of perception of the world of infinitely small particles by means of devices and his own mind.

            As a result of cultural mutation of the crisis epoch, the historians’ conceptions of time and things (facts) became definitely more complex even compared to the previous century. It became clear that facts, if possible, had to allowed to speak for themselves, one can not modernize this or that age imparting to it the time of the researcher. It was realized that all historical and cultural epochs were in dialogue. All distinctive and original is indestructible (it was first said by the neo-platonic Procles in the V century). The world culture is an integral continuum of clusters of creative energy of people who lived and live. In the cultural space they are all contemporaries. There must be a distance of communication between a document and a historian, just like between a painter and a landscape that he is painting. This is the principal acquisition of the new historiography: the presumption of non-interference. The pretension “to describe it as it really was” is now forgotten, but there remained the striving to understand and believing that history is not a theater of absurd and that a document is not a fiction but a special demonstration of the behind-the-screen.

            It also seems to me that like in physics, in the historical science of the XX century the conception of time became more complex. Time was no more regarded in Newton’s way - like a neutral receptacle of events. After Henri Bergson, Einstein and even Proust in cultural and, probably, scientific mentality time grew together with things. Like Siamese twins. Variability became part of time. Beyond a certain limit of physical state the properties of time also change, as it was proved by Einstein. To cut the long story short, time is not only the essence but also (I will use the expression of Andrey Platonov) “the substance of being”.

            Thus, today the “editing” work of a historian is partly like the work of a documentary film maker at his editing table. I mean first of all an alike perception of time and things, a common desire to overcome subjectivism and the stereotypes of the collective unconscious. There is descriptiveness in history which sometimes becomes somewhat picturesque, some people even speak of history as of an art. And still the main purpose of a historical research is not its artistic effect, like it is in the cinema, including the documentary which for me, unlike a simple newsreel, remains an art. The goal of a historian is to “edit” facts in such a way that there would appear a situation of understanding valid for some time for all members of the scientific society. His goal is a cognitive insight, a burst of sense which is accompanied by “recognition”.

            A document for a historian is a starting point, an object which he is to transform into a working idea. The raw (resisting to a researcher chaotic collection of facts) must acquire its readiness, it must turn into food for the mind, a conceptual vision. A historian can not do without generalization. It is the secret of his losses and his victories. Events on his screen are often arranged according to the rules of the drama, but his catharsis is beyond the limits of a concrete imagery.

            It is different for the documentary. Generalization is contra-indicated for it if we want it to remain an art (although there exists cinema journalism which is consciously suggestive and partial, provided with a corresponding text and imposing upon the audience a certain view on some events – but can this be called documentary cinema?)  As any art, it operates concrete images and if it is a success with the audience there appears a strong feeling which turns – again – into catharsis. I think that the documentary cinema’s task is give the audience a chance to rediscover the world, to break loose from the world of habits at least for a while, at the best – to cultivate feelings, to individualize perception. A thing, the time of the thing, flowing on the screen, can be a well leading behind the screen. If montage is inevitable, and it seems so, then a good montage is better that an ordinary one. Perhaps, what makes montage good is the presence of hiatuses, i.e. zones of perception that are an anomaly from the point of view of “sound mind”. Oleg Aronson’s article Hollow Time (for which I am utterly grateful) is dedicated to this phenomenon.

            Hollow Time, if I have grasped Oleg Aronson’s main idea, is something that is beyond the limits of interpretation but at the same time – within the limits of perception. I accept that the interpretative degree of the author’s perception, its a priori in certain (and uncertain) circumstances may be lowered until the threshold of strangeness (neutrality), and then on the screen there appear frames or parts of frames which are not structured, recognized by the consciousness. A montage with “hollow spots” which carry out their special task. Like some kind of koan, riddle. 

            As a spectator, I understand it, as a historian I don’t need this technique. Nevertheless, a historian’s work contains something meditative like listening to the past and experiencing, living through it inside.

            A “good” historical montage is a consequence of such capacity.

            And the last thing. A good montage anywhere – in history, cinema, poetry is a condition of transcendence = a breakthrough to I-don’t-know-what = a remarkable victory over the habit. Transcendence is the utmost form of the weakening of the a priori of perception. Without the experience of transcending, without the experience of death and resurrection culture is not able to change seriously, it becomes just a ritual chatter.