Laczó: You are the founding director of Pasts Inc. Institute of Historical Studies and recently you became head of the History Department of Central European University. What are your ambitions for these positions? What kind of work is being done currently, what are the projects you or others working with you have in mind?
Antohi: My biggest ambition is to turn this department of history and the institute of historical studies into a relatively visible site of learning, research, publications and academic encounters. The conferences I have organized with my collaborators are good evidence that something is going on, and we are emerging as such a place. These recent events did not go unnoticed, and we have exceptional echoes from around the world. In October 2004 we held the biggest conference ever on the theory and history of historiography, and brought people from all continents where historical studies exist, the top of the crop. This will result in three collective volumes that will become a reference work for years to come in the field, we hope. I am also part of various networks and associations, such as the International Commission for the History and Theory of Historiography, where I am Secretary General, and to the International Committee of Historical Sciences where I am a member of the Board. Our networking could hardly be better.
My attempt as department head is to turn all these network into a very stable institutional organization. This is a small department. My ambition is to make it bigger, by introducing a number of options that were never formally or seriously pursued. This includes a more professional, vocational specialization (Archive and Museum Studies), undertaken with the Open Society Archives, one of the most exciting archival centers of the world. In cooperation with Medieval Studies and the Institute (i.e., Pasts, Inc.) we are getting more and more in touch with historians from our area. For instance, in 2005-2006 we featured a series of lectures on Hungarian historiography named in the memory of our late colleague István György Tóth, and we will continuously feature historiographies from other countries of the area in the future (e.g., ex-Yugoslavia in 2006-2007).
We need to make choices, to specialize, while staying on a certain level of theoretical and methodological generality, and keeping a wide geographical coverage; we ought to find those things we can do best, since we are competing for students with other universities, locally, regionally, and internationally. We want to attract the best students, and so we need to have an identifiable, uniquely attractive academic and educational offer; otherwise we remain at the level of an introductory comparative effort, which is salutary, but might remain more civic than academic if not pursued on the highest academic level. It is good to know something about others, and not only contemplate yourself in the mirror, but we are here to do scholarship, and it is not enough to have a cursory knowledge of everybody else, which would be provided in the short year of our MA course, and in another brief year of doctoral level classes (what we currently have).
Central European University is a small university associated by some with ideological positions they may not share, or they may even reject. It is a university that strives to become a research-focused graduate school, truly transnational, while keeping a certain level of quality, and aiming at ever higher levels of competence. In a small department these are not easy to achieve. This is why I want to rely on visiting professors more and more, and I am trying to establish better contacts with Hungarian universities, not only from Budapest, and offer this university as a regional forum. I am less interested at this point in inviting American or Chinese scholars, I am more focused on grounding this department in its area, without making it provincial nonetheless.
Laczó: How do you see the potential of teaching history for an international audience? What does such teaching have to focus on?
Antohi: This question is music to my ears, since I am working on reforming the curriculum of this department. We thought we could cover comparatively the three regions of Europe closer to us, that is Eastern Europe, Central Europe and South-Eastern Europe, and do implicit or sometimes explicit comparisons to Western Europe or other areas. My sense is that comparisons on such a huge scale are technically almost impossible. I know how difficult it is to compare even two cultures that are quite similar, or two cities in the same country, two writers in the same culture. Among many difficulties, one needs to crack a number of cultural codes to do comparative work, and one needs to rely very heavily on the expertise of others. Even though intelligent research is possible this way, one sometimes feels at a loss when one’s own intellectual tools are not helping enough. Most students and faculty coming to this place are polyglot--a great advantage. It is different from what happens at the typical university in Western Europe or North America, where the same ambition of comparative research is entertained by people who do not speak so many languages. This is of course changing there as well, especially due to the inclusion of immigrant academics, but we are still better placed here, and I think we have a comparative advantage through knowing more languages and being closer to the sources, closer to the cultures, and the spirit of these places.
The other possibility of integrating this diversity of academic cultures, historiographical canons, and traditions, is by engaging in very thorough theoretical, methodological exchange and work. This is my priority. I can do comparisons to a certain extent, mainly between Romania and the West European cultures whose languages and cultures I know best. In the interest of this university, while learning all the time from the comparative exercises of our students and faculty, I am trying to connect this diversity of empirical research and academic vocabularies by means of a theoretical, methodological reflection. I am still working on how to do this but I have already developed some ideas that I have introduced in my classes. This might eventually materialize in a synthesis on historical theory, but I need more preparation for it. I have no interest in repeating what famous people have already stated. If you write reference works, most of it comes down to repetition. Professors do write such works, but I am not interested in doing the same. Nor do I believe in the perfectly rounded, definitive and irreplaceable monograph. That ideal synthesis would have to rely on teamwork, on a variety of skills that very few separate individuals possess in our time. I stem from a tradition of classical erudition (this is in fact my conservative part): I ask for good knowledge of disciplinary canons. If you know them inside out and only if, you are free to deconstruct, to smash them as you please. I am an iconoclast, but study the icons first. If you want to be against the ‘idols of the tribe’, you need to know them very, very well.
Laczó: How do you see yourself as a Romanian intellectual living in Hungary? Does this make any difference for you? Would you say you have developed a special relation to Hungary? How do you see recent trends in the relation between the two countries? Here I am referring to cultural connections and cooperation in the first place, especially here at Central European University.
Antohi: My presence in Hungary is that of a cosmopolitan, of a citizen of the world. I feel absolutely at home here. I love Budapest, I know it better now than I know Bucharest. I am not from Bucharest, as I said in the beginning of our conversation; right now, even statistically (days spent in one location) I am more of a Budapester. I do not follow the fineprints of intellectual life here, since my Hungarian is rudimentary. Unfortunately I did not have the chance to develop it up to the point of being really proficient in it. I have been in and out for eleven years, away for longer periods on several occasions (in the US, Germany, Romania), or walled in my office, because I need to work all the time. I had very little leisure to do anything else but work, and I am still lagging behind on all counts in terms of whatever other passions or hobbies I might have had. What brings me very close to Budapest is the fact that it is a world to which I can connect very easily. For all the differences between Hungary and Romania, which are mitigated by their defining overlapping in Transylvania, I think they are the two closest cultures in the entire area. Even though reading sophisticated Hungarian texts remains impossible for me, and so I rely on secondary literature and translations, I detect important affinities. This would sound as an insult to some Hungarians, I imagine, and would sound scandalous to certain Romanian circles, too. For some Hungarians my claim would be unacceptable, because they see themselves as the civilizing heroes in the Carpathian basin. For some Romanians, my claim would sound like high treason. But, leaving such prejudices aside, there is a commonality between Hungary and Romania for which there is ample empirical evidence. One only needs to take stock of this commonality and embrace it, rather than (almost psychoanalytically) repress it. Romanians and Hungarians are more than neighbors, which is a formula I frequently use.
One of the important successes of this department has to do with the fact that at a certain point a Hungarian-Romanian connection was established. This was possible thanks to the providential presence of a Hungarian from Budapest who decided to learn Romanian in order to read Romanian texts in the original. This man is Balázs Trencsényi, whom I met in France, in 1995, just prior to my first term as a visiting associate professor at Central European University. Balázs became the mediator between the students I was bringing over from Bucharest, Hungarian students from Hungary and from Transylvania (the latter two groups would not easily interact, while the Hungarians and Romanians from Romania were strangers to each other, due to the relative cultural isolation of these two groups). So there was a chance for these two (or three!) cultures to meet, and especially a chance for Transylvanian Hungarians to finally locate themselves symbolically. They were doubly excluded previously or at least felt that way, and it was impossible without this triangulation via Balázs and a couple of their teachers to establish a durable link between them all. This is might be considered the most important achievement of our department, as the common socialization of these three groups paved the way for a transnational and intercultural socialization which encompassed most students, irrespective of their background. I played a certain role in this and I am very proud about it.
Laczó: Can one legitimately talk of the philosophical background of contemporary historians? Would you say that current historical works in our region express discernable philosophical views? After the collapse of the overarching framework of Marxism-Leninism, in which directions did historiography move in this new pluralistic and confusing age? Are we basically back to neo-positivism, or can the field of history claim to offer something more exciting and intellectually stimulating even to philosophers?
Antohi: Some of these questions were explored during the conference I was referring to earlier, Historical Studies: Disciplines and Discourses, held at CEU in October 2004. We wanted to have an exchange on a large scale, with parallel events and ‘off Broadway’ activities, and we had ca. 120 people with us at any given moment over a week. So it was something massive, almost a congress. As many conferences, it did not automatically yield proceedings ready to be published within a few months. We have been working with Jörn Rüsen, Chris Lorenz and Hayden White on the editing of this material, but the project is far from being ready to go the press. Exploring these questions is also the job of the Commission on the History and Theory of Historiography, and a major part of the task of the International Committee of Historical Sciences. Many publications, from periodicals to monographs, tackle such issues as well, although they are not widely read by historians and philosophers. Historical theory is a very small field, statistically speaking.
As to the other questions you asked, I cannot provide more than brief answers here. First of all, not all historians can read and understand philosophy. This is a fact of life. Another fact of life is that most philosophers do not read books of history at all. This would leave us with only those among historians who are capable – clinically, psychologically, academically – to read philosophy, or more philosophical, abstract texts. This leaves us with few of the ‘armies’ of historians working all over the world, and with the rare birds among philosophers who can relate to history, debase themselves enough to read history, and can think historically. Evidently, there is a clash of paradigms, intellectual styles, of epistemological foundations and assumptions, intellectual origins, instruments, aspirations, and itineraries. To give you one example, until 1989 in Romania the departments of philosophy and those of history were combined by force. You would major in one and do your minor in the other. One would expect a thriving communication between the fields in such a situation, right? In actual fact, there was very little of it. Both parties perceived this juxtaposition as a Party imposition (which it ultimately was). Scholars would never consider working under the same roof and so in 1990, when given the administrative chance, they split up, and have lived happily ever after. (I find little solace in the equally sad lack of communication between history and literary studies, history and anthropology, history and sociology, etc.)
Whenever I talk to philosophers, I have to struggle with their hubris, their superiority complex. They think that what historians write is undertheorized and pedestrian, antiquarisch (in case they read Nietzsche). They are right in a certain sense, because most historians are at best neo-positivists, many are paleo-positivists (i.e., first-degree, ‘innocent’ positivists, who know of no other approach to historical materials). Even more of them are neither of the two. They are rather unreflexive practitioners of a trade which has separated itself from more abstract reflection and culture in general a good generation ago, maybe even more. This was not the case prior to the Second World War, and not yet dramatically the case up to the 1960s, but since that time the separation is clear. It became possible for all kinds of people to turn back the wheel, and reintroduce into history elements of various disciplines--from ethnology, cultural anthropology, social sciences of all sorts to the arts and philosophy. These are still so unusual that when they occur they are singled out in the profession at best as an innovation, or at worst as a non-historical, irrelevant development, as if philosophy, literature, political science or logic had nothing to do with history. I myself have problems with being labeled a non-historian by people in the profession.
On the other hand, philosophy also went through a difficult phase of redefinition and self-scrutiny. Choices needed to be made between a number of philosophies. I don’t mean between philosophical doctrines, which has always been the case, but rather between dramatically different styles of reasoning, some of them brand new. At some point it seemed that analytical philosophy would simply replace everything else, all traditional fields such as metaphysics or moral philosophy. By now all the traditional sub-disciplines of philosophy have been recast in the categorical system of analytical philosophy, which I think has run its course. It did not deliver on its original promise. Linking the two fields now, I can safely say that the analytical philosophy of history is dead. Arthur C. Danto, in a memorable article, claims exactly about this and I was glad to see that one of the tenors of this field came to this conclusion.
If we talk of the year 2005, the following picture emerges: there is a total disaffection with any form of grand theory. Coming up with such a theory is so risky that nobody dares do it. You have to go to Russia to find the specialists in kulturologia who still propose a historiosophy or historiology, quasi-mystical forms of historical theory. Jutta Scherer has published a very instructive book on this topic. Speculative theories of history survive only on the outskirts of the Western world, or in eccentric and marginal circles within its core. Elsewhere, in the mainstream, such theories tend to be discarded as pure speculation or reactionary rubbish. The problem is that big questions are still there to be asked and answered, and it is a very sad development of the last decades that they were left outside what is perceived as a legitimate part of the mainstream in the humanities and the social sciences.
Once the figure of authority was exposed, first by psychoanalysis, and once this culture of anti-authoritarian hubris spread within every discipline, for better and for worse, there was no way back. We nonetheless need to find a way back, albeit not to ex-cathedra pronouncements of the academic mandarins like in the 19th century or in the 1930s. I am not pleading for the relinking of historical studies and of the reflection upon the writing of and the research in historical studies with any of the grand theories and ideologies of the past. I am not interested in seeing a new Marxian, Spenglerian, Collingwoodian, Lovejovian, not even Aronian synthesis. (As a philosopher of history, Aron had a mutant contribution to the field. When he was working on the history of historical thought in Germany he was at his best, but his own introduction to the field was rather delirious). Without advocating such a revival, I still believe that new connections need to be established between reflection in every other field about the world and our experiences of historical research, the types of historical writing we are practicing today. Aristotle’s Physics was separated by readers from his Metaphysics arbitrarily; in their author’s project the two were parts of a continuum.
I know that it is currently impossible to integrate the vast multitude of disciplines, since we are going through a crisis of communication between even neighboring subfields. This has to be corrected by an indication that there is some commonality between different fields. I advocate the reconnection at every moment of reflection and empirical research, of theory and practice, as Marxists would put it. This connection is problematic and rare, even in the work of the greatest authors. Here I can mention with all due respect and warm nostalgia one of the persons from whom I learned most in my life, Paul Ricoeur. He was not reading many historical works. If you look at his indexes and footnotes, he is talking about 20 to 25 books at most. He is quoting and referring to approximately ten authors, such as Carlo Ginzburg, historians of the Annales School or Saul Friedlander, but he is not concerned with mainstream historical research. So the complaint of some ‘real’ historians is somewhat justified: they do not feel represented and discussed by people who formulate general theoretical statements about history. These worlds have to be brought together. This is the topic of the next decade or more, and in the process we have to remain open to the current concerns of our societies, not forgetting about the use and abuse of history. Knowingly or unknowingly, we all live in very pervasive historical cultures: even Hollywood movies, cartoons, political discourse, advertisements and so on are full of historical references. This present-day historical culture, whose very regime of historicity seems to challenge the very idea of history, needs to be analyzed in connection with the current concerns of our academic field. This connectedness is very important, just as it is indispensable to relate our historical reflection to different non-European theories, worldviews and traditions. In this respect I would first turn to our colleagues from China, Japan, and India, because articulate visions of history and alternative historiographies were developed there. For instance, there is a high culture based on the Buddhist and Confucianist worldviews that Europeans have to engage. I am a modest participant in this process, especially in terms of preparing systematic and synthetic scholarly treatments of such central notions as Utopianism and nationalism for publication in China. I am not competent enough to relate to the details of what our Chinese, Japanese, and Indian colleagues tell us, but I am genuinely committed to the making of a truly global, intercultural historical culture. Such exchanges, when they go beyond the protocolary surface and address the most challenging issues and our disagreements upfront, can help us immensely, even practically, for our own orientation in the world. We cannot experiment in history, or at least we shouldn’t, but there is a huge repository of successful and failed experiments out there in other cultures, times and places. Whether or not we believe in historia magistra vitae, even if we are skeptical about the possibility of transcultural and transthistorical learning, we might still try. This is not about generating paradigms or models that can be applied in different settings, such as those developed by the more vocal political scientists (I still have to be persuaded that mantras such as ‘conflict resolution’ really yield practical results). But the mere knowledge of alternatives might help historical actors in their effort of making sense of their worlds. And this is not trivial.
I would argue that the huge discrepancy that has emerged over the last decades between speculative and non-speculative theories of history, between the analytical and the narrativistic and similar theoretical positions, need to be studied together as alternative visions of history, and checked against each other and against other forms of reflection on history, including the theological, the metaphysical, the discursive, the logical, the epistemological, etc. This would include the study of various ‘meta-‘ approaches closely linked to historical research and writing, the various ‘discourses of a practice’, to use the ‘proto-postmodernist’ French formula. Writing historiography ‘innocently’ in the 2000s, when every other field has introduced elements of meta-disciplinary reflection strikes me as very sad and counterproductive. Among others, this theoretical poverty drives intelligent, theoretically-minded people out of historical studies; isolates historians from the main debates in the humanities and social sciences; and prevents scholars from other disciplines to take any serious interest in ours. This has less to do with the sheer difficulty of theorizing history, which certainly exists, but is present in other disciplines as well, but rather with the status and the location of theory on the ‘Mendeleevian table’ of historical studies. (By the way: most historians have no idea of this ‘table’, i.e. of the system of historical studies; they only know a fragment, usually just one box. With the demise of comprehensive, systematic curricula, this system is not properly taught in most universities around the world.) Theory belongs to the core of historical studies, and should not be (perceived as) a specialized, marginal thing. While political science, even in its most dogmatic form--is rational choice theory--, managed to locate theory at its center; social scientists in general boast their systematic use of social scientific models, while historians tend to move away from anything remotely linked to theory. We need to critically learn from experiments such as the Gesellschaftsgeschichte of the Bielefeld School, microstoria, etc. Sometimes, we need to contribute serious reflection on these trends or fashions or intellectual styles of historical writing, as their practitioners frequently theorizing only by request, after the fact, when their approach was already going downhill after its period or moment of fame. This is also true of the Annales School. We need to bring such styles of historical research and writing back into the general discussion. This way we might come up with something smarter than neo-positivism or blasé post-post-postmodernism...
Laczó: I am aware that it would be impossible to provide a fully rounded answer to this last question of mine, but I would like to ask about some of your impressions concerning the past fifteen years, and how you would evaluate the cultural and intellectual developments you have been witnessing. What do you see as the great achievements, and what have been the sour disappointments of these recent years?
Antohi: This is another monumental challenge. By now we are talking about half a generation of historical change since the fall of Communism. With my colleagues we have been exploring the developments in the historiography of Central and Eastern Europe for the first ten years after 1989. These explorations resulted in two forthcoming collective volumes: Narratives Unbound: Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe and Pasts Continuous: Writing recent History in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, both with CEU Press.
Several years ago I was asked to report on ten years of changes in the social sciences and the humanities in our entire region. I tried to refuse this surreal assignment, but was told that there was somebody, namely Paul Baltes from Berlin, presenting the same evolution in Western Europe. And so I came up with a sketchy tableau. I stated that the 1990s in Eastern Europe had been basically about reconnecting, readjusting, and ultimately returning to Western European trends and developments. During the Cold War, there were scholars in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere, who were participating in the all-European debates in historiography, but their voices remained marginal. The fact that Jacques le Goff came to Budapest does not mean that Béla Köpeczi would elicit the same attention when going to Paris. The attempt by Jerzy Topolski, somewhat in the spirit of a venerable Polish tradition, to reconcile analytical philosophy and Marxism in a new methodology of history, or the work on the theory and history of nationalism by Miroslav Hroch, had a certain global impact, of course, just like some of the more empirically-oriented publications emerging from our region. But such exceptions could not amount to a Eastern European contribution to the main international debates in historical studies. Let’s not kid ourselves! Under Communism, Eastern European historians never reached the level of visibility they had enjoyed between the end of the 19th century and World War Two. Still, there were some exchanges and some generous Westerners would allow some heroic Easterners to speak their minds, especially when they were saying yes. This situation has not changed enough until now. Eastern Europeans need to assert themselves more in order to capture and retain the attention of their Western colleagues. This process will take time. At this point we can only report about some successes and some failures, we can salute some ambitious (and usually failed) East-West comparative projects, but we cannot speak of a truly pan-European process of integration in historical studies. Historians lag behind literary scholars, for instance: comparative literary studies of European trends have started to appear in the 1970s, peaking in the 1980s. The Budapest-based Akadémiai Kiadó, for instance, has published one of those pioneering projects. So the recent multi-volume, collective work on the history of European literatures, edited by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer, builds on the work of the previous generation. In historical studies, only the 1990s and the 2000s have seen the first systematic European histories of historiography or comparative histories of particular topics, such as the one (still in progress) funded by the European Science Foundation. Before such major descriptive and analytical tools are available, the connection between empirical historical research and historical theory will remain very superficial.
Overall I see our situation as historians as part of a general crisis in the humanities and the social sciences that has started in the 1960s. My sense is that we are still looking for ways out of this enormous confusion. To youngsters, and even more to sixty-eighters, this sounds like a very conservative statement. I do not think it is so because the result I see, and I have much evidence for this, is the unprecedented fragmentation of intellectual and academic, disciplinary or transdisciplinary idioms. This resulted in a major crisis of communication between even the various sub-fields of the same field. There are enormous difficulties of communication between people who belong to the same clearly defined sub-discipline. What can we expect from well-intended discussions between philosophers, musicologists, writers, historians, natural scientists, and so on, taking place in some secluded quarters? You really have to wonder what is going on under the aegis of inter-, trans-, meta-, and multidisciplinarity at lower levels. I survived two years in two of the top three institutes of advanced study in the world, the Stanford-based Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1999-2000) and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2004-2005). I visited and spent shorter periods in other such places, attended many disciplinary and interdisciplinary conferences, for many years, so I know rather well what is going on. Consequently, I can state with some certainty that the epistemological promises of the 1960s and 1970s, generally iconoclastic, over(self-)critical, deconstructionist, and so on, have not materialized. The hope was that we would reach a certain level of critical expertise in our playing with all these notions, topics, theories grand or small, paradigms and models. This way it would become a natural thing for all of us to relate to anybody else conducting research anywhere else, even to those working in other fields. In a way this was the promise of a universal language in the ‘anything goes’ world of self-assertive particularisms, of unintelligibility, after meaning had been exposed as a tyrannical illusion or worse. The idea was relocated from the arcane sphere of a universal language as understood by Leibniz and others to the still ambitious project of global communication among scholars who otherwise do not share anything else, and are very happy and proud about it. What we have now is the opposite of a mathesis universalis: ever greater difficulties in understanding each other. This is a major disappointment to me.
How then to make sure that without resorting to a very rudimentary common language, that of ideology, a global discussion would still be possible? Not only am I disappointed with the failure, our common failure, to design an intelligent, overarching, inter-, trans-, or postdisciplinary communication, but I am also disappointed with the shape a new commonality has started to take, that is the form of ideology. Rudimentary ideologies are being encoded these days around the world in the various forms of ‘political correctness’. There are several versions of it, both on the left and on the right. They are competing, but they are quite similar in the sense that they offer preformatted ideological answers to all problems--epistemological, civic, moral, ethical, etc. As I indicated I my égo histoire exercises earlier, I am rather suspicious of ideologies and as a matter of fact I am quite virulently against them. When I mention liberalism, please understand this as a critical reading of this tradition, always in combination with other ideas! I would not subscribe to a liberal party wholesale. I support some of their political agendas and policies, but I would never subscribe to their ideology across the board. The question is how to make sure that we reach a certain level of commonality and mutual intelligibility without resorting to this rudimentary tool that is ideology?
When I was living in Romania in relative isolation, and I only had the chance of listening to foreign radios, of reading books and articles, but hardly ever going places and visiting Western universities (einmal ist keinmal, or almost: I had a chance to spend twenty days in Germany, mainly in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in June 1989), I was still entertaining the illusion that in places I would never be able to see some smart people were working at developing that new universal language. This turned out not to be the case, not even in the major centers of scholarship in the world. There is nothing of this sort besides the claims of cognitive scientists. Theirs is a sort of reduction of everything to a paradigm that can seem sophisticated to some, but not to me. Technically, especially in terms of its jargon, cognitive science is rather sophisticated, but it is not nearly as complex as it would need to be for it to play any role in the recomposition of a long-lost unity of knowledge. In any case, cognitive science did not manage to replace traditional analytical procedures and concepts with its own based on the vision of the mind based on the solitary, asocial brain.
Aside from this, we are left with purely ideological positions, and that is very worrisome because it raises the issue of conformity and opportunism. People do not always resist such temptations. Historically, when given the chance people are opportunistic and can engage in the worst intellectual, ethical, moral, political exercises. With this dissatisfaction I feel, I somehow draw the lines of a dream: that of participating in the redefinition of the humanities and the social sciences in light of the current challenges of the world we live in, without sacrificing the traditions that made us who we are. This can only be done as a huge international team effort. In fact I am participating in such a project as well, in order to relaunch, revisit, rediscuss some of the basic tenets of the humanities. Whenever necessary, we ought to go back as far as the pre-Socratics and see what went wrong there and then, or “just” to the 19th century, or to specific authors! This is not a modest undertaking, but this is the framework in which I inscribe my entire life. Whatever is left of it, I see it against this background, modestly integrated in this effort of discussing critically and going beyond these traditions. No single person can make this happen in the world. But by joining forces, we may have the chance of coming up with something more intelligent than what we have now, something that would not be merely ideological. It would integrate rather than reject, purge, censor, and label the achievements, values, and principles on the basis of which entire cultures and civilizations (for centuries, sometimes for millennia) seem to be functioning. I do not need to add that they did not function perfectly, no culture or civilization does. Nonetheless, the study of fallible, imperfect pasts is the only resource historians have at their disposal, it is their only meaningful contribution to the endeavors of their societies.
Post Scriptum by Sorin Antohi, December 2006
When this interview is published, in January 2007, I am not affiliated with Central European University anymore. On October 20, 2006, as it emerged that I wasn’t holding a PhD despite my claims to the contrary, I have resigned from all my academic positions, as well as from most of my various offices in various associations and organizations. Under the circumstances, many of the blueprints and utopias I was describing in a 2005 interview (somewhat anachronistically edited in 2006) acquire an additional dimension: they become uchronies, or counterfactual history. But not all those projects and visions will be lost, I hope. Some of them have been already taken over by others, some of them will remain my debt to the scholarly community, and especially to my mentors, colleagues, and students.
Postscript of the Editorial Board, January 2007
As indicated, this interview was originally conducted in late 2005, and was edited and partly rewritten by Sorin Antohi in late 2006. This took place after the revelations of his connection to the Securitate and of the fact that he did not receive his PhD at the University of Iasi, and his subsequent resignation from all his positions at CEU.
Our journal does not publish this interview to express its support or approval of Antohi. We believe that the interview is an interesting document, and can also contribute to a more complex understanding of the events of last year. It is our hope that it can be illuminating to see how Antohi perceived and perceives his career.