Wednesday, April 22, 2009

John Lukacs, Historian Extraordinaire

Certain authors don’t have to meet any tests to prompt me to buy their new books, and one of those is John Lukacs. By chance yesterday (I’ll explain later), I learned that Lukacs had published a new book, Last Rites, so off I went to Prairie Lights to buy it—no questions asked! In delving into the first chapter, “A Bad Fifteen Minutes”, I was not disappointed. In this piece—the book addresses professional (historian) and personal recollections—Lukacs deals with issues of the practice and understanding of history, discussing “objectivity”, “subjectivity”, “idealism”, and “realism”. Lukac’s prose is not easy as he jumps and darts, eludes and asides, but it’s worth the effort. Lukacs argues for going beyond “historicism” (determinism in fancy dress) to “historicity”, the sense that all human knowledge and activity grows out of a history. But history is not a simple sequence of events, but a tangled stream of currents and eddies that do not travel at the same speed or the same direction.
I learned of this book because I’d finally started his book Historical Consciousness, or the Remembered Past (1968/1985), his book about history, historians, and historical thinking. I think that I’d put it off because he can be quite daunting to read, at least when he’s reflecting (as opposed to narrating, as he does in Five Days in London or The Duel). In any event, I’ve set aside the older book now to dive into the newer, my attention span is sufficient (for the most part), but time is so limited. Like a dog with too many scents, I’m off. However, by addressing you, dear reader, I hope to preserve my trail so that I may find my way back. (More on the trail later.)

Note: I'm linking to Amazon.com for the information on the book, not as an endorsement of Amazon. Nor, by saying this, am I denigrating Amazon. I prefer, whenever possible, to use local book stores (such as Prairie Lights, The Seminary Coop, etc.), but Amazon can prove useful, and best of all, they do keep a wealth of information on titles, allow you to keep a list of books you're interested in, etc., so I link for the reader's convenience.