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Volume 6, Issue 1: Contents


Freedom as Accumulation

  Let's begin, just as we'll end, with the debts, which already couldn't be repaid. Near Helena, Arkansas, someone told Ann Ulrich Evans that a man in that state, or Alabama, or Missouri, wanted "a gang of niggers to do some work and he pay you like money growing on trees," but then after bringing in the "fine big crops" on those "great big farms," she was told she owed more than when she arrived. A storekeeper in the Brazos Bottom of Texas promised Laura Smalley anything she'd like, any kind of money, any dress her daughter desired, if she'd just open an account before Christmas and stick around another year. And Henry Blake got such offers in Arkansas, too—twenty dollars in food, a gallon of whiskey, whatever clothes he wanted. "They'd let you go jus' as far in debt as you wan' to go." "Anything that kept you a slave." "We never did git out of debt." These were the voices of former slaves and their descendants as they stood before the counter of the country store, facing the white merchant on the other side. And that scene, fraught and repeated, was the cornerstone of the South in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century.



The Medium is the Message: Enunciation and the Scriptural Economy of Scientific Psychology

  It's probably not surprising that in a practice like that of the spiritualist medium, rooted as it was in displaced and disavowed subjectivity, uncertain authorship would invite a dispossession of ownership. Such was the claim, at least, that would come to characterize the acrimonious relationship between one of the late nineteenth century's most famous mediums and the scientist who wrote about her in a bestselling book with the unforgettable title, From India to the Planet Mars. What at first glance appears as just a banal episode of estrangement—between the Genevan medium known as Hélène Smith and the psychologist Théodore Flournoy—serves here to highlight the ways in which authorship, property, and the mediated forms of desire as described by psychoanalysis all signaled the incompatible terms into which subjectivity was rendered in late nineteenth-century Europe. In this case, the unitary subject of liberal philosophy and of law (the author and proprietor) was opposed on the one hand by the transcendent subject of spiritualism and, on the other, by the internally riven subjectivity of the new psychology. At issue in each of these discourses was not only the now-classic question of the author—of who is speaking and to whom a given text belongs—but also the question of writing as the means by which language was historically transfigured, from a form of interpersonal address into a formal and universally accepted discourse like law or science.



The Bones in the Concept: Big History, Theodor Adorno and Second Nature

  With the evidence more or less in on the precarious climatological state of the planet, the desire for universal history, as the popular press avers, has returned. Its latest incarnation has been called Big History. In a spate of recent books, the story of human history—leading up to and even beyond the present predicament of global climate change—is placed within the even larger explanatory framework of the universe. This interdisciplinary attempt to view history on the largest possible scale—the span of 14 billion years from the big bang to the present and into the future—is announced by an adjective at once modest and immodest. Coined by historian David Christian in the early nineties, Big History has a folksy flippancy and open-handedness that aims to walk its ambitions right past the once-formidable postmodern skepticism of grand narratives.




Just the Facts: The Fantasy of a Historical Science

  The above quote by Ranke follows his more celebrated but also vilified historical aspiration to show the past event wie es eigentlich gewesen—"how it actually happened" or "how it actually was." And it is here that I want to begin my exploration of the fantasy of a historical science. I do not wish to point to Ranke as indicative of scientific history. Instead, I want to emphasize the way that Ranke's later statement about the limitations of historical inquiry has been effaced by his bolder, more positivist, and definitive claim about presenting the past "as it actually happened": just the facts. Historians have always been adept at offering paradigms they know are unattainable and then effacing those aspects that expose the instability or limitations of




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