The rhetoric of literary realism in Leopold von Ranke's historiography.
The innovative character of Ranke's writing consisted particularly in the attempt to establish historiography within the institution of the academy. Ranke intended to shape historiography into a professional academic discipline. Although his efforts greatly differed from academically established disciplines such as natural science and systematic philosophy, historiography was striving for the same status. This career shift of historiography also affected its linguistic and stylistic appearance. "New" historiography had to change its modes of writing in order to be accepted within the academic environment. As Acton's words suggest, in order to write history for scholarly purposes, the historian had to refrain from using "color," that is, rhetorical embellishment and poetic invention. For Ranke, color is always associated with unprofessional historiography, with the falsity of rhetoric and poetic fabrication. In his writing he aims for "a strict presentation of the facts, contingent and unattractive though they may be...." (2)
Although the reader might not appreciate Ranke's stinginess with coloration and might even begin to crave a juicy historical novel a la Walter Scott, for Ranke this sparseness constituted an avenue of fame. In fact, in stripping history's muse, Clio, of her poetic splendor, Ranke enhanced his prominence as a founder of the academic discipline of historiography. Clio and her sister Calliope, originally the muse of the heroic epos and later, in Homer and Ovid, the patron of poetry, came to be separated in Ranke's project of "de-colorization." Calliope had no place in Ranke's professionalized writing of history. However, Calliope, "belligerent" by reputation, did not give up so quickly. She resurfaces not only in Ranke's definition of scholarly history as a synthesis of "science and art," (3) but also in the literary strategies and rhetorical techniques of his historiography. Nevertheless, in order to be close to Clio, Calliope has to pay a price and conform to the academy's conceptions of poetry and the writing of history.
The demonstration as well as the analysis of this intricate sisterhood between Clio and Calliope in Ranke's historiography constitutes the trajectory of this article, in which I will trace Ranke's employment of rhetoric to represent history. My analysis builds on Hayden White's thesis of the poetic prefiguration of scholarly historiography in the nineteenth century in Europe. (4) White's designation of the historian as a storyteller projects a relativistic theory of history in which historical knowledge and representation is contingent on the historian's cultural disposition and his or her linguistic construction of a historical narrative. White's concept of the historian as a storyteller also merges the boundaries between fiction and history, which were established and reinforced with the rise of history as a scholarly discipline in the nineteenth century. Tracing this discursive blurring between scholarly history writing and fictional modes is the broader goal of this article. Analysis of the rhetorical and poetic elements of Ranke's writing destabilizes the concept of his slogan "writing history how it really was" as a program for an objective, factual writing of history. More specifically, Ranke uses a rhetoric of realism which goes beyond White's narrow and formalistic designation of Ranke's uses of "doctrinal realism" as a mode of representing history. White's concept of realism essentially consists of a part-whole model, in which the particularities can be subsumed under a totality, which he in turn characterizes as organic, synecdochic, and comic. He thus views realism in the tradition of classical aesthetics, which synthesizes realism with idealism. (5) Whereas there is no doubt that Ranke's writing is indebted to this part-whole model, there are other realist strategies at stake. Ranke also uses a rhetoric of realism that aims to simulate factuality, scholarliness, and authenticity. Ranke's historiography works with numerous "realist effects," which are employed in moments when the text attempts to suggest a high degree of referentiality to the nonliterary world. As Roland Barthes suggests, these moments of referentiality, or "illusion of referentiality," are rhetorical constructions based on the use of literary strategies. (6) Ranke's historiography is poetically and linguistically fabricated in ways that deny its own status as representation. Ranke aims to show history as if it happened right in front of the eyes of the reader, as an "authentic" event in the present that can be witnessed and seen. In order to simulate this impression of authenticity he employs classical rhetorical strategies of realism in his writing. Ranke's realist program is based on a shift in the concept of self-evidence in the nineteenth century. He uses rhetorical strategies of realism for the narrative design of his historiography. Ranke employs the rhetorical techne of realism via his use of catalogues, archive effects, and specific metaphors. The evidence of rhetorical realist strategies in Ranke's work not only proves that in spite of his project of de-rhetorization, his scholarly historiography is based on rhetoric. It also shows that, in contrast to the claims of White and others, Ranke's work is strongly shaped by a technical rhetoric of realism, which will be introduced in the following section of this article.
Ranke attempts to create within the historical narrative the impression of "the real...., which suddenly manifests itself in front of your eye with an unimagined originality." (7) He tries to present the historical events and scenes as they would appear in front of the eyes of the reader. The visual nature of this moment, and its sudden and unpredictable appearance, implements, however, an aesthetic quality within the process of understanding the events. The text intends to evoke an aesthetic experience, in which both author and reader are able to encounter the past in an unmediated, true manner. This evocation of an aesthetic experience that enables the reading subject to grasp historical reality through the power of his or her imagination indicates a shift in the concept of self-evidence. In classical rhetoric evidentia belongs to the rhetorical ornaments (ornatus) and functions to manufacture evidence through rhetorical strategies such as specific narrative techniques and detailed description (energeia, hypotyposis, illustratio, description, and so forth). Evidentia is the product of rhetorical techne (rhetorical techniques, laws, conventions, and rules), traditionally understood as the ars benedicendi in classical rhetoric. (8) This technical concept of evidentia changes decisively during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hans Blumenberg succinctly characterizes this shift in evidentia's function and meaning, according to which evidence no longer constitutes the result of the canonical rules. Rather, self-evidence is said to represent a principle of knowledge, a moment of insight that is created independently from rhetorical techne. (9) In Ranke's case self-evidence indicates a moment in which rhetoric becomes superfluous, in which the facts suggest that they are able to speak for themselves. Rhetoric, as a set of canonical conventions, no longer has the authority to control the arrangement of historical facts and events. Instead, evidentia is evoked through the power of imagination within the subject. It is the power of the autonomous individual that is capable of creating evidence. In other words, Ranke transposes evidentia to the realm of aesthetics, a realm in which the individual is capable of producing knowledge through his or her own senses.
In accordance with his theoretical musings about evidentia, Ranke introduces a stylistic reform for writing history. He demands a strict "de-rhetoricization" of the historical narrative, which also emphasizes the relocation of evidentia in his writing practice. Ranke elucidates this program in his essay "The Historian's Craft" and he attacks the Italian history writer Francesco Guicciardini for performing a historiography informed by discourse: "In this manner the history [by Guicciardini] is constructed. It is scarcely different from Ariosto's poem. Moreover, its form is essentially distorted by discourses about 'why' and 'if and 'why not.' There are speeches and digressions; at the least one could say that the latter do not always fit" ("Craft," 83).
Emile Benveniste's model of histoire and discours is a useful heuristic tool to highlight the difference between Guicciardini's and Ranke's style of writing. Ranke attacks the Italian historian for writing a history that is interrupted by speeches and digressions. These disruptions are Guicciardini's personal comments about the historical contexts, explanations about the specific motivation behind the events. In short, his language resorts to a large amount of discours. According to Benveniste, discours displays the subjective mode of language, in which the author engages with the audience and wants to persuade it of his own attitudes.
Guicciardini assumes in his writing the role of an active mediator of history whose interpretation serves his pragmatic intention to educate and entertain his audience. In order to achieve this "prescriptive" feature of his writing, he is even willing to invent a few extra facts and thus to construct history for his own purposes. Guicciardini integrates rhetorical ornaments, fictitious illustrations, artificial speeches, and faked documents into his historiography. For Ranke, this is an act of forgery that constitutes the worst sin in writing history. The scholarly historian, according to Ranke, allows neither poetic supplements nor pragmatic educational purposes in the writing of history. Ranke categorically rejects fictional supplements, basing his writing solely on genuine sources and evidence such as memoirs, diaries, letters, ambassadors' reports, and original accounts of eyewitnesses. For a characterization of Ranke's ideas about his style of historiography, Benveniste's concept of histoire is pertinent. According to Benveniste, histoire constitutes, in contrast to discours, the objective mode of language, that is, a purely narrative use of language, which is devoid of any interventions by the writer. Benveniste has in mind nonsubjective language that he associates with French realist fiction with its use of the "past historic" (aorist) tense. Further, he finds this type of narrative in Gustave Glotz's historiographical work Histoire Grecque, in which the "events seem to narrate themselves," "as they occurred," "outside of the presence of a narrator." (10) Ranke's project of "de-rhetoricizing" the historiographical narrative shows some similarities to Benveniste's model of an extradiscursive mode of narration (histoire). History should give the impression that it tells itself! This goal is articulated, for example, in his well-known statement: "I wish I could annihilate my own self and only the objects would speak." (11) This statement, however, shows the hypothetical nature of Ranke's vision. Using the verb "to wish" in its conditional form indicates Ranke's desire to erase the historian's subjectivity within the historical narrative. Yet Ranke was well aware that even in the most scholarly historiography the historian resurfaces as a speaker and thus leaves--to use Benveniste's term again--traces of discours. Ranke knew about the permanence of rhetoric within the writing of history, but he shifted the attention away from the rhetoric as techne, to the aesthetic realm.
For Ranke, aesthetics replaced rhetoric as techne and thus evidentia was the product of the experiencing individual, which creatively shaped the historical facts within the narrative into an active and lively imagination. The contemporary German historian Jorn Rusen interprets Ranke's relocation of evidentia as a qualitative change of rhetoric, a change which aestheticizes rhetoric. (12) This aestheticized rhetoric thus facilitates the cooperation of the scientific and the aesthetic realms, which is essential in conceptualizing history as a scholarly discipline. For Rusen, rhetoric no longer works as techne, but is changed into an autonomous aesthetic discourse free from rhetorical canonical methods and conventions. Through this change, rhetoric represents a vehicle that can introduce the element of rationality into historical writing and displays a force that is able to create the coherence, plausibility, and transparency of the historical narrative. There is no doubt that rhetoric in Ranke's concept of history still persists. The function of this rhetoric, however, is different than Rusen suggests. The presence of rhetoric destabilizes the shaping of history into a scholarly discipline since it blurs the boundaries between fiction and fact, literature and science. (13) Thus, my approach to rhetoric is close to research in which the "transcendent" capacity and function of language has been widely problematized. This research gathers to various degrees around a concept of "new rhetoric," which emphasizes the nontransparency of language. This makes them very different from highly structuralist and formalistic approaches by White and Northrop Frye. Even though these scholars have different conceptions of language, they all consider historiography as a primarily literary discourse, which, in my view, undermines the scholarly aspect of historiography. Rusen's emphasis on aestheticized rhetoric subsumes and represses all questions about rhetorical techne, and thus detracts from the problems of representation in Ranke's historiography. An examination of Ranke's use of rhetorical techne of realism demonstrates how his texts produce scholarly effects of historical referentiality. This textual construction of historical authenticity in turn contests Ranke's efforts to represent history under the auspices of scholarliness and factuality. In contrast to White's and Rusen's approach to Ranke's rhetoric, which primarily focuses on his meta-textual assumptions, it is possible to see a technical notion of rhetoric that is directly derived from Ranke's actual writing techniques. The next section of this article demonstrates the narrative aspect of Ranke's realist techne.
The title of Ranke's debut work, History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations 1494-1514, (14) seems to do justice to the very structure of the work. It exposes not one story but many stories such as minor military campaigns and interventions, lost battles, short victories, and numerous political coalitions and contracts in Europe around the end of the fifteenth century. In his work, Ranke tries to condense the mass of data that he finds in the archives by subsuming it under a symbolic structure, a metahistorical idea that is meant to lead the way through the labyrinth of the multiplicity of historical events. This thread is the notion of the unity of six European nations, a spiritual, cultural, and historical alliance that functions as the common denominator in his effort to make sense of the abundance of historical facts. Ranke's idea of this European alliance sheds light on the important role of nation in his historiography. Ranke, who was always an advocate of the Prussian monarchy and even became the official Prussian historiographer in 1841, also supported the Prussian state. Even though Ranke was a conservative apologist for Prussia, he should nonetheless not simply be identified with the school of radical nationalist historians such as Gustav Droysen, Heinrich von Treitschke, and Heinrich von Sybel. During the 1860s and beyond, these historians instrumentalized their historiography to serve as a mouthpiece for their particular political intentions. When this type of nationalistic historiography reached its pinnacle in the 1880s, Ranke wrote the nine volumes of Universal History. His universalistic conception of history, which, in broad strokes, tries to unify all European nations into a system of alliances, is based on conservatism rooted in the political traditions of the old European system of dynastic alliances.
In contrast to Ranke's later work, his debut work is much more experimental in its narrative architecture. Researchers have often critiqued its terse and dense sentence structure, frequent use of archaisms, and rugged diction. Ranke himself was not really content with the narrative form of his first work. However, these "flaws" also make his History a rich and complex text well suited to show how Ranke uses rhetorical realist strategies to convey the impression of historical authenticity. Ranke uses specific narrative strategies that aim to create the impression of plausibility and comprehensibility for the historical narrative. According to Ranke, this is achieved by the following: "One has to strip all phrases from the narrative." (15) This idea of stripping the narrative of its rhetorical costume presents, however, a rhetorical gesture in itself. Through purging historiography of its rhetorical stains, Ranke applies precisely a traditional rhetorical device of narration from Roman antiquity, namely Cicero's and Quintilian's concept of the narrandi virtutes, which represents rhetorical guidelines to shape a proficient narrative. In particular, Ranke uses perspicuitas as a rhetorical strategy, with which he attempts to persuade the audience of the narrative's plausibility, as well as to attract the audience's attention and interest. In classical rhetoric perspicuitas represents the virtue of clarity and comprehensibility that the speaker has to observe in all the different phases of the speech. In the phase of inventio and dispositio, the speaker has to produce clear thoughts and order them in a precise and economical manner. Further, the linguistic couching of the thoughts (elocutio) must be accurate, factual, and precise to communicate the speech's intention. The ideal of perspicuitas (in opposition to its corresponding vice obscuritas) is reached when the language of the speaker is "precise in his or her own expression in a way that one no longer knows if the matter became clear via the lecture, the words, or the thoughts." (16)
Consistent with the modern shift of evidentia to the sphere of the subject, Ranke also relocates the offspring of perspicuitas. Ranke does not try to explain or comment on the course of the narrated historical events. Rather, in his narrative the historical figures seem to act and speak for themselves and thus suggest an individual logic that is rooted in the subjectivity of the historical "actant." (17) For example, Ranke gives Charles VIII a personal touch in describing his character as straightforward, unconcerned, and clever in securing his political power. He even points to his physical appearance: "In personal appearance he was thin and malformed, but was at the same time very keen for all sorts of knightly games and military duties" (History, 29). Charles VIII, individualized through a few adjectives, creates plausibility of historical events through his decisions, intentions, and actions, which is particularly evident in the following passage from the first chapter of the History, about when Charles VIII starts to govern France in 1491: "He [Charles VIII] signalized his assumption of the reins of government by a noble and unexpected action. One evening he rode off from Plessis to the Tower of Bourges. He went to release the imprisoned duke, regardless of the fact that the latter had borne arms against him. He took him away with him. They conversed and laughed together at table, and slept the night in the same bed.... And by this act he put an end to the old feud between the barons and the Crown" (23).
Charles VIII's deeds are easy to trace since the events follow one after the other and suggest a cause-and-effect relation, a relation that stems from his thoughts and his subjectivity. He represents an acting subject, who never doubts or fundamentally questions his actions. In general, Ranke's actants rarely suffer a crisis or distrust their own fate. Thus they fully identify with their "role," and their actions gain a persuasive power. The passage shows action literally as the important element that establishes plausibility. Charles VIII's great action causes a complex sequence of new events, such as the end of the baron's war, the important alliances with powerful families such as Orleans, and the conquest of Brittany. His personal decision to bond with his former enemy, thus setting the preconditions for important power coalitions, develops a logic that conveys the plausibility of the narrated sequence, since the narrative takes the perspective of Charles VII's intentions, which all work out according to his will.
Even though Ranke shifts rhetoric into the sphere of the subject and thus claims autonomy from rhetorical techne, his depiction of Charles VIII is nonetheless controlled by a classical rhetorical formula. Inventio takes place within the presentations of Charles VIII's actions and thoughts. His actions gain their persuasive power precisely through denying their own rhetoricity. This denial is indeed the rhetorical gesture itself. It connects Ranke's text to the tradition of classical perspicuitas, which aims to create plausibility on a level at which it is no longer possible to discern whether clarity stems from the thought or from its expression. Ranke also shows parallels to classical rhetoric in the use of elocutio. He depicts Charles VIII with very simple and accessible words, using primarily denotative speech to ensure the reader's comprehension of the narrative. The clarity of the sequence of events would be lost if Ranke were to use connotative and associative language.
Classical rhetorical strategies, such as the presence of perspicuitas in inventio and dispositio, form a type of palimpsest that connects the historical events and attempts to create plausibility, which on the surface seems only created through the autonomous events themselves. This "rhetorical" palimpsest, however, critically reflects upon the autonomy of the historical individual. Ranke's narrative displays an autonomous status while it concurrently shows its dependency on rhetorical techne of realism. Like the autonomous historical individual, Ranke's historical narrative suggests that it does not need an external commentator such as a participatory narrator to explain actions and events. Following the Benvenistian concept of histoire, one can say that Ranke's historiography tries to convey the impression that it actually tells itself. The narrator's voice is never really a direct interpretative voice; it tries to be as absent as possible. However, this absence is a finely crafted effect simulating the autonomy of the historical narrative as such. Ranke simulates the superfluousness of rhetorical techne, which in turn presents him as a gifted storyteller who reaches full mastery of rhetoric by making it redundant in his narrative. He not only uses realist techne on the narrative level, but also on the nonnarrative, descriptive level.
To convey historical facts, Ranke makes use of the catalogue, which has the purpose of conveying as much information as possible. The poetic strategy of the catalogue is often used in literature to flesh out the details of a plot, such as the description of its participants and its circumstances. (18) However, the catalogue is also used in scholarly academic historiography. Consider the catalogues in the following passage from chapter 2 of History:
At this time Spain was first heard and spoken of; this country had a short time previously become consolidated into a united and powerful kingdom out of two disunited and feeble principalities, Castile and Aragon. With regard to Castile, the manuscript of Alonso de Palenzia records that there existed a law of Henry of Trastamara to the effect that, without permission from the King of France, no Englishman should go to Castile, nor a Castilian to England. Such disgraceful compact was actually kept by these monarchs. John I relied in battle even more upon the French than upon his Castilians; John II appeared to many to be almost bewitched by his favorite Alvaro de Luna; the Portuguese, Pacheco and Giron, after overthrowing Alvaro, obtained control over Henry IV. (62)
The abruptness, the staccato rhythm, the clipped succession of facts, names, and locations, as well as the long sentences divided by many commas are all markers of Ranke's writing style. With this reductive and abrupt writing technique, Ranke's text tries not to describe reality, but to induce it. The emphasis falls not on the detailed description of the historical event, but rather on its immediate evocation through language. The reader must first become entangled in the disjointed text, and then synthesize the facts into a whole image. Ranke challenges the reader's hermeneutic capacity to project the singular fragments of historical data towards a larger horizon of meaning. For Ranke, the historian's language attains a symbolic significance, which represented an extensive innovation in the field of contemporary historiography, and was immediately contested by his colleagues.
The ultra-conservative historian Heinrich Leo, for example, attacked Ranke's style of writing as extremely dry and lifeless. In Leo's view, Ranke's concept of the "naked truth" amounted to little more than a dull accumulation of facts; he dismissed Ranke's style as "anatomical preparation and copying." (19) Leo, one of Ranke's most passionate critics, not only critiqued the brusque nature of Ranke's writing, but also thought that the concept of the active reader was misguided. Ranke responded to Leo's criticism in a manner consistent with his methodological convictions concerning source study: "Please be just and read the passage a second time." (20) Thus, Ranke suggests a symbolic reading practice, one in which the reader must go through the passage a second time, in order to grasp its full meaning.
But if one reads Ranke's passage a "third" time, it begins to show in fact some resistance to Ranke's concept of synthesis. As Leo remarks, the passage presents a high degree of facticity produced by a multitude of personal and geographical proper names. On the surface, these proper names seem to be organized by a genealogical principle that marks the family connections, as well as the power relations between the houses of Castile and Aragon. Nevertheless, if one traces these names throughout this passage, it becomes evident that the family patterns lose their genealogical macrostructure and start to disintegrate into inventories of historical names, titles, and professions, which do not show the natural limits of a genealogical tree. Rather, they present catalogues, endless lists, and ever-accumulating amounts of information. Moreover, the second and the third sentence of the quote list names in a taxonomic style, heaping names of persons and nationalities (Alonso, Johann I, the French, the Castile, Johann II, Alvar de Luna, the Portuguese, Pacheo, Giron, and Henry IV) as well as proper names of locations (Castile, Palenzia, Trastamar, France). These catalogues attempt to convey as much information as possible--even information that does not seem relevant to the plot of the historical narrative. The passage seems merely to display superfluous data, yet this flow of information has the rhetorical effect of establishing a tone of accuracy. Drawing on Barthes's essay "The Reality Effect," we can understand the names in this passage as representations of what he calls insignificant detail. Comparable to the barometer in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Barthes's example, the names and locations in this passage carry no significance for the plot. Yet this "insignificance" is precisely the condition of possibility for the creation of realist effects. The supplement of irrelevant details increases the text's effectiveness in creating an impression of (historical) reality.
Ranke's use of catalogues sheds light on another rhetorical strategy of realism that he uses to establish historical referentiality in his writing, that is, the suggestion of an "archive effect" as the literal simulation of the historian's archival work, in which he collects, finds, and contemplates historical material. For example, the first passage quoted above, in which Charles VIII invades Naples, works with such an "archive effect." In this paragraph, the reader is not pulled into the atmosphere of the historical scene so as to be able to visualize the event in all its colors, shapes, and details. Rather, the reader is pulled straight to the desk in the archive and has to work with the historian's tools, with historical records and source material. Indeed, the passage's exact dates, locations, and proper names convey a sense of reading the actual documents. Further, the rugged syntax of the passage literally simulates the piecing together of historical findings. The material itself gives only some clues, and it is up to the reader to do further research to understand the whole dimension of this historical event. This "archive effect" is produced by the impression of the presence of source material within Ranke's text. However, Ranke did not copy and integrate actual sources into his text. Rather, he tried to create the impression for the reader that he or she works like a historian piecing together texts of authentic sources. This is in fact a very effective strategy to suggest the truthfulness of Ranke's text, since it engages the reader in some research activity.
The illusionary presence of source material in Ranke's writing points to the intricate intertextual structure of his historiography. While his texts simulate original documents, they only imitate the style of and the reading process associated with the historical source. Ranke attempts to create a type of "pastiche" of historical documents in order to increase the effect of historical authenticity. He integrates historical documents as such in his writing to create a type of historiographical montage. Ranke prefers to use literary devices such as the simulation of the archive to create the impression of historical authenticity, instead of the common scholarly strategy of using footnotes to prove historical referentiality. Ranke distills historical sources into a literary concentrate, which is, to him, a far more effective tool for convincing the reader of his status as a scholarly historian.
For instance, Ranke uses this specific form of citational writing in his depiction of the discovery of America in the second chapter of the History. Talented dramatist that he is, Ranke homes in on the first glimpse of the New World's coast from the perspective of Christopher Columbus's fleet:
Tradition goes, that these coast-seamen, after spending week by week between heaven and water, only gazing upon seaweed and seeing no land, threatened to murder their captain. The captain the while, working by day with the lead, and by night keeping his eye intent upon the fixed stars, and even in his dreams full of visions and success, remained firm of purpose and managed to curb all opposition; until at last looming clouds inspired hopes, and in the night a sailor shouted "light and land"; when day broke, hills, high trees, and green land were discovered; he shed tears, and falling on his knees, said the "Te Deum Laudamus." They erected on the coast an enormous cross, heard the notes of the first nightingale, saw the timid good people, and returned to tell their king of the country they had taken possession of in his name. (69)
Ranke begins this passage with the term "tradition goes," which already suggests the citational quality. Columbus's story has been recorded (or told) many times before. Again, Ranke recreates the language and the tone of the historical source, the letters by Columbus. Even though there are numerous versions, editions, and translations of the famous explorer's letters, one can still find thematic and stylistic similarities in Ranke's description of the New World discovery. The following passage from Columbus's description of his second voyage illustrates these similarities: "On the morning of the Sunday before mentioned, we saw an island lying ahead of the ships, and afterwards another came in sight on the right hand.... We steered directly to examine the one we had first sighted and reached the coast, going more than a league in search of a harbor where we might anchor. As much of the island as was in sight was all very mountainous, very beautiful and very green down to the water, and this was a delight to see, since in our own country at that season there is scarcely any green." (21)
Even though Ranke does not write in the first-person singular, he imitates the genre of the travelogues and the personal narration of the discoveries of unknown and strange countries. His text simulates the letter and diary tone of Columbus's writing, a tone that amplifies the reader's impression of authenticity and immediacy. Ranke similarly describes the waiting, the hopeful gaze into the sky, the light clouds which promise the arrival in the new land, the utopian glimmer of that land--all of these represent common thematic motifs of adventure and travel stories of the nineteenth century. Columbus recounts the weariness and the exhaustion of his crew and the tremendous joy at having arrived in the "promised land." Both passages immediately attempt to familiarize the unknown by using the picturesque as mode of perception. Ranke's and Columbus's travel notes attempt to suggest historical authenticity through employing literary topoi commonly used in travel literature. The motifs of longing and fulfillment (hopeful gaze in the sky, the color green) not only organize Ranke's passage, but also Columbus's descriptions of his journeys. The use of the diary tone, as well as the development of these literary patterns, increases the effect of reality within both passages. Again, it is remarkable that Ranke conveys authenticity by capturing the tone of the original sources through their linguistic and poetic imitation, rather than by footnoting the sources in a scholarly manner.
In Ranke's writing there is yet another rhetorical strategy employed to intensify historical referentiality. This strategy works on a tropological level and concerns the use of metaphors. Generally, Ranke tries to avoid metaphors whenever possible; it is hard to find any in the History at all. However, when he does use one, he uses only a specific type, one that might be called a "cautious metaphor." This type of metaphor is the opposite of the so-called bold metaphor, which Cicero has critically commented upon: "A metaphor should be reserved (pudens), not bold and daring." (22) The threat of a bold metaphor consists in its power to disrupt semantic referentiality. (23) Ranke was aware of the impact of bold metaphors and made only cautious use of them. Consider the following passage from the History: "But this retired and singular world was convulsed by a great violent movement. The sea is calm, and reflects the sky; then comes a storm: when it is past and gone, the sea is the same as before. If a movement and a storm comes [sic] into the hearts of men, there will also return a day of calm: but meanwhile the world has altered" (39).
The context of the quotation is the decline of Italy's power as a strong empire during the fifteenth century. As a metaphor for historical change, the image of the "storm" is used very prudently: the storm can momentarily destroy the condition of stasis embodied by the image of a calm ocean mirroring the sky. However, the ocean remains always the same and returns to its prior (essential) stillness. The image of the storm on the ocean is paralleled by the inner sphere of the subject as a "storm of the heart." The passage, then, closely connects the realm of nature with the realm of the human subject, which in turn suggests a metaphorical reading of the storm as the power of history, an image that is not farfetched. The semantic space of transference between the "storm" of the outer realm of nature and the "storm" of the inner realm--the human--is neither very far nor very near; rather, the metaphor takes a kind of middle ground. It is on this middle ground that "storm" as a metaphor for history is located, a location that does not overwhelm the reader's imagination, which serves Ranke's intention to keep his work easily accessible. What is more, the use of "storm" as a metaphor for emotions or social change commonly occurs in "ordinary" language. Ranke does not dare to confront his readers with unfamiliar linguistic experiments; rather, he tries to establish an ordinary voice that will keep the reader both connected to his work and persuaded of its soundness.
Ranke's History shows that although Ranke demands a strict "de-rhetoricization" of historiography, his writing is still controlled by the rhetorical techne of realism. Although these rhetorical strategies like virtutes narrandi, catalogues, archive effects, and specific metaphors work on different textual levels, they share one common intention, that is to simulate historical authenticity and thus to represent history "as it really has been." Having shown the presence of the "rhetoric of realism," we might now ask: What are the implications of this use of rhetoric for the self-definition of scholarly historiography? All these rhetorical strategies of realism used in Ranke's historiography work together to create the impression of historical referentiality. Ranke's text increases its "external referentiality" by using representations of historical reality as the medium for textual production. For Ranke, this increase of "external referentiality" represents an intensification of the scholarliness of his historiography. However, his historiography's emphasis on its nontextual nature, which is accomplished through various rhetorical strategies to simulate reality, leads one back to the question of textuality in a paradoxical way. The fact that the text "tries so hard" to cloud its textual nature also points to its own linguistic and compositional principles. From this rhetorical point of view, Ranke's historiography, then, thematizes implicitly the problems in portraying historical reality in a realist text.
To adopt Barthes's words, Ranke's text develops a quality of performance: "Like any other discourse with realistic claims, the discourse of history thus believes it knows only a two-term semantic schema, referent and signifier; the (illusory) merging of referent and signified defines, as we know, sui-referential discourses (such as performative discourses ..." (Rustle, 139). In this light, Ranke's historiography contains moments in which his text starts to thematize its own textuality as well as its rhetorical composition. This is evident in the catalogues of historical details, which help to create the effect of historical authenticity. However, at the same time, the increase of historical referentiality points also to the text's enormous effort to obscure its textuality. As we have seen, Ranke's catalogues are organized primarily through the presence of "insignificant details" that attempt to create a "realist" impression of the depicted scene. These details are important not only to increase the impression of historical referentiality; they also represent clues to the thematization of language within the text. The accumulation of names and other data often occurs merely in order to sustain a flow of information. These data often have no relevance to the plot or to the interpretation of the historical narrative as such. Rather, the catalogues work to give Ranke's writing a "realist" touch and yet they also foreground the linguistic composition of the text itself.
Calliope, in the shape of the "rhetoric of realism," then, can disrupt methodological preconditions for clarity and definiteness, and thus problematize attempts to define Ranke's historiography as a scholarly discourse, as Rusen has suggested. This presence of rhetorical techne can be seen as counterproductive for Rusen's claim regarding the qualitative change of rhetoric into an aesthetic discourse in Ranke's historiography. For Rusen, the elimination of rhetorical techne is a necessary component for the rationalization of history writing into a modern scholarly discipline. From Rusen's point of view, Calliope should accept her fate of being subsumed by scholarly rationality and should help to create the cohesion, plausibility, and comprehensibility of the historical narrative. Calliope does not like this role since she is the muse of poetry and therefore prefers to work for the literary discourse. Her priority is not the representation of historical truth or falsity; rather, she experiments poetically and uses all kinds of devices to establish the impression of reality. Calliope and her army of rhetorical techne--narrative, poetic, and tropological devices of realism--make problematic the notion of history as a scholarly discipline. The language of historiography gains a self-referential capacity and thus blurs the boundaries between historiography and literary discourse.
University of Arizona
(1.) John Emerich Dalberg-Acton, Lectures on Modern History (London: Macmillan, 1930), 18.
(2.) Leopold von Ranke, "Zur Kritik neuerer Geschichtschreiber" (The historian's craft), in The Secret of World History: Selected Writings on the Art and Science of History, ed. and trans. Roger Wines (New York: Fordham UP, 1981), 58. All further references to this text will be cited parenthetically as "Craft."
(3.) Leopold von Ranke, "Idee der Universalhistorie" (Idea of universal history), in Vorlesungseinleitungen (Prefaces to lectures), ed. Volker Dotterweich and Walther Peter Fuchs (Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 1975), 72. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.
(4.) See Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1973); Figural Realism: Studies in the Mimesis Effect (Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1999); "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact," in Tropics of Discourse: Essays on Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1978), 81-100.
(5.) Even though White discusses in Metahistory Ranke's narrative as "historical realism as comedy," he nevertheless views realism in the tradition of classical aesthetics, which synthesizes realism with idealism. The following works refer to aesthetics of the Goethezeit as the formative discourse for Ranke's historiography: Daniel Fulda, Wissenschaft aus Kunst: Die Entstehung der modernen deutschen Geschichtsschreibung 1760-1860 (Science out of art: the emergence of modern German historiography 1760-1860) (Berlin: Gruyter, 1996); Johannes Sussmann, Geschichtsschreibung oder Roman? Zur Konstitutionslogik von Geschichtserzahlungen zwischen Schiller und Ranke (Historiography or novel? about the structure of historical narratives from Schiller to Ranke) (Frankfurt: Steiner, 2000); Uwe Hebekus, Klios Medien: Die Geschichtskultur des 19. Jahrhunderts in der historistischen Historie bei Theodor Fontane (Clio's media: the historical culture of the nineteenth century in historicist prose by Theodor Fontane) (Max Niemeyer: Tubingen, 2003).
(6.) Roland Barthes, "The Reality Effect," in The Rustle of Language, ed. and trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 148. All further references to this text will be cited parenthetically as Rustle.
(7.) Leopold von Ranke, Die groben Machte: Politisches Gesprach (The great powers: political dialogue) (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), 45-87.
(8.) Gert Ueding, Grundriss der Rhetorik: Geschichte-Technik-Methode (Compendium of rhetoric: history-technique-method) (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1986), 200-54.
(9.) Hans Blumenberg, "Anthropologische Annaherung an die Rhetorik" (An anthropological approach to rhetoric), in Wirklichkeiten in denen wir leben: Aufsatze und eine Rede (Realities we live: essays and a speech) (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1981), 111.
(10.) Emile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics (Coral Gables: U of Miami P, 1971), 208.
(11.) Leopold von Ranke, Englische Geschichte vornehmlich im siebzehnten Jahrhundert (A history of England principally in the seventeenth century), ed. Willy Andreas (Wiesbaden: Emil Vollmer, 1957), 303.
(12.) Jorn Rusen, Konfigurationen des Historismus: Studien zur deutschen Wissenschaftskultur (Configurations of historicism: studies on the German culture of science)(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1993), 114-35.
(13.) See Frank Ankersmit, History and Tropology: The Rise and the Fall of the Metaphor (Berkeley: U of California P, 1994); Stephen Bann, The Clothing of Clio (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984); J. H. Hexter, Doing History (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1971); Carlo Ginzburg, "Ecphrasis and Quotation," Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 10 (1988): 67-91.
(14.) Leopold von Ranke, History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations 1494-1514, trans. G. R. Dennis (London: Bell & Sons, 1909). All further references to this text will be cited parenthetically.
(15.) Leopold von Ranke, Uber die Epochen der neueren Geschichte (The epochs of modern history), ed. Theodor Schieder and Helmut Berding (Wien: Oldenbourg Verlag, 1971), 65.
(16.) Marcus Tullius Cicero, Vom Redner (On the ideal orator), ed. and trans. Raphael Kuhnert (Munich: Wilhelm Goldmann, 1962), 148.
(17.) Mieke Bal, Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1985), 26.
(18.) See Historisches Worterbuch der Rhetorik (Historical encyclopedia of rhetoric), s.v. "Katalog."
(19.) Heinrich Leo, "An Perthes," Hallsche Literaturzeitung 17 (1827): 76.
(20.) Leopold von Ranke, "Erwiderung auf Heinrich Leo's Angriff" (Response to Heinrich Leo's criticism), in Samtliche Werke (Collected works) (Leipzig: Humblot, 1890), 53:659-66.
(21.) Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages of Columbus, ed. and trans. Cecil Jane (New York: Dover, 1988), 20-22.
(22.) Cicero, Rhetorik an Herennius (Rhetorica ad herennium), ed. Friedhelm Muller (Aachen: Shaker, 1994), 4:34.
(23.) See Harald Weinrich, "Theorie der kuhnen Metapher" (Theory of the bold metaphor), in Theorie der Metapher (Theory of the metaphor), ed. Anselm Haverkamp (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1983), 316-40. Weinrich presents the bold metaphor as a strong poetic tool, which disrupts denotative language. The "bolder" the metaphor, the "greater" the distance or the closeness of the transference between signifier and signified.
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