Out of time? Some critical reflections on franÇois hartog’s presentism

C. Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


© 2021, Gaidar Institute Press. All rights reserved.The article offers a thoroughgoing critique of the concept of presentism, through which the famous French intellectual historian François Hartog conceptualized the modern sense of history. Introducing the concept of “the regime of historicity,” Hartog pointed to the socio-cultural conditionality of the relationship between the present, past and future. He redefined Koselleck’s description of the genesis of modern history during the “saddle time” in terms of a transformation in the regimes of historicity. The author of the article points out the duality of Hartog’s presentism, which is both an “ideal type” and a description of a chronologically defined span of time. Although Hartog explicitly speaks of presentism as a heuristic tool designed to deal with the temporal experiences of people, he does not investigate them anthropologically or sociologically. Hartog describes the specific tendencies inherent in twentieth-century historiography — its memorialization and juridification, and the concepts that have become key in dealing with the past — memory, commemoration, heritage and identity. These arguments of Hartog’s contain normative judgments and indicate a negative attitude toward the change that he witnessed in the social status of historiography. Careful study shows that Hartog’s use of presentism as a diagnosis of the modern era is incompatible with presentism as an analytical category. The former assumes a progressive linear course of time and is the inverse of modernism. The latter is a way of pluralizing time. The half-heartedness of such a status can be seen by contrasting it with Achim Landwehr’s concept of chronoference, which explains the sociocultural nature of historical time. If the distinctions between past, present and future are not ontological (as the historians of modernity imagined them) but instead situational, then the dominance of any one order of time is impossible. But unlike Landwehr, Hartog is not ready to completely abandon the modernist concept of history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-64
JournalLogos (Russian Federation)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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