Materialism at the Millennium

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Geoffrey Winthrop-Young gets inside De Landa’s total history.

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings.’
Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking-Glass

Total history comes in waves. During the first decades of the twentieth century a number of prominent studies appeared that were written either by amateur historians such as Oswald Spengler or professionals like Arnold Toynbee and that mobilized a wide range of alternative disciplines in order to provide a new comprehensive view of history on a global scale. An ambitious commitment ‘to talk of many things’ - that is, to extend the domain of historiography far beyond its traditional boundaries - was linked to the elaboration of all-inclusive algorithms designed to account for the basic dynamics of history, be it the morphologically programmed blooming and withering of autonomous cultures in Spengler’s Decline of the West or the challenge-response scheme of Toynbee’s Study of History. Several reasons conspired to slow down the production of further such grand narratives following the Second World War, not the least of which was the increased institutionalization of historiography, but it appears that we are now caught up in a second wave of total histories. Once again, they are written by historians and non-historians alike, and once again the extension of the disciplinary boundaries is linked to a liberal import of ideas and methods from hitherto unrelated or ‘irrelevant’ fields.

Pull Quotes: 

.......what happened in Europe could have happened elsewhere, so there is no innate reason why Western Europe came to dominate the world the way it did. The potential problem is that despite this more open and relaxed view of global history Europe retains its privileged position. Once upon a time historians reduced history to an algorithm that regulated a predictable rise from barbarism to high culture with Europe as the supreme example against which all others had to be measured;

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