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Stein, H.F. (1983). Historical Understanding As Sense of History: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry. Psychoanal. Rev., 70:595-619.

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(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70:595-619

Historical Understanding As Sense of History: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry

Howard F. Stein Author Information

Generally it is infinitely better to have no history than to keep up in the people the inclination to falsehood. It is a wrong piety to wish to cover up the errors of our fathers; the only means of honoring the memory of our fathers consists of abandoning their mistakes.

Ernest Denis La Bohème depuis la Montagne-Blanche.

Introduction: A Sense of History

The subject of this essay is history: what it is, what it is for, what makes for its plausibility, and what accounts for its universality.1 By saying historical understanding, I confine myself neither to the discipline of history nor to the professional undertaking called historiography, although I also do not exclude them. Rather, the wider net I cast is on the phenomenon of creating and having some sense of history, that is, what man imagines mortal time to mean, and why with unyielding conviction he locates himself within its framework. It is part of a larger study of the psychoanalytic meaning of cultural meaning.

By virtue of having language, we are able to communicate with one another about reality and thus improve our collective alloplastic mastery, enhance our adaptation, and thus increase our survival value. At the same time, we are able to use language for literally new unlimited vistas of the imagination to which we can apply magical thinking. To name is to call, if not summon, into being. And if what is named is needed to allay anxiety, one can be sure that proofs will not

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