Anachronism: The Queer Pragmatics of Understanding the Past in the Present

Daniel Huebner, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Anachronism can mean two things: an individual’s error in identifying a date, or the simultaneous occurrence of two or more events that appear out of harmony with one another. While the first sense is rightly condemned as harmful to scholarship, the second sense can be the starting point for useful historiographic investigations. This paper brings into dialogue queer historiographers who have developed the notion of “queer temporality” with classical pragmatist philosophers and social scientists, in order to identify the way anachronism emerges as a sense of surprising identification or resonance with the traces of the past encountered in the investigator’s present. Queer and postcolonial historiographers have emphasized the socially structured, heterogeneous and asynchronous ways time is experienced, and pragmatists have traced a logic of inquiry in which an arresting experience of surprise prompts the course of inference. Such a practical sense of anachronism is crucial to the way historiography works – how it discovers novel facts about the past and how discoveries about the past lead to realizations about the present. This approach can also lead us to reconceptualize the relationship of the present to the past as an ethical one of dialogic responsibility, with implications for how we understand cultural preservation and democratically inclusive claims.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 176. Data and Interpretation: Pragmatism and/or/vs Hermeneutics.