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New Left Review I/29, January-February 1965


Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Condition of the Novel (West Germany)

‘Strange whim of the people’—writes Heinrich Heine—‘to ask for its own history from the poet, instead of the historian’. But the ‘people’ is right, and its whim is anything but extravagant. If Plato says that poets lie, what words could ever define official historiography? The method it uses, the sources it draws on, the problems it confronts, all these condemn it to adopt the point of view of the ruling classes. History as a science can only describe externally the concrete process with which it must be concerned. Historiography speaks of peoples, states, classes and nations. It mirrors everything except real men.

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