The first edition of the “Categories of Medieval Culture” was published in 1972. The book was translated into Hungarian, Polish, Czech, German (in the GDR and West Germany), French, Italian and English and evoked a response in the form of numerous reviews in the domestic and foreign press. I was particularly pleased with the interest that the book aroused in non-professional readers. The historian, unless he is occupied with purely special and narrow questions, can not but turn to the broad reader-this is the specificity of his craft. The problem raised in the book – the self-awareness of the human personality of the epoch of feudalism, manifested in the perception of time and space, in relation to law, in the interpretation of labor, property, Wealth and poverty –
The term “category” is applied to the components of this picture of the world in the book. To what extent and in what sense is he justified here? It seems to me that when constructing a model of medieval culture (and the book outlines certain aspects of its model, but does not depict the history of culture and does not give its general characteristics) it is methodologically important to recall Marx’s well-known idea of the relationship between general validity and historical concreteness in the categories of political economy. Marx wrote: “Even the most abstract categories, even though they – because of their abstractness – are valid for all ages, in the very certainty of this abstraction are as much a product of historical conditions and have full significance only for these conditions and inside them.
Bourgeois society is the most developed and most multilateral historical organization of production. Therefore, the categories expressing his relations and understanding of his organization give at the same time the possibility of penetrating into the organization and production relations of all obsolete social forms from the debris and elements of which it is being built, partly continuing to drag along the unresolved remains, partly developing to the full value something that was previously only in the form of a hint, etc. Anatomy of a person is the key to the anatomy of a monkey. On the contrary, hints of a higher one in lower animal species can only be understood if this higher one itself is already known. The bourgeois economy, therefore, gives us the key to the ancient, etc., but not at all in the sense that economists understand it, which smear all historical differences and in all social forms see the bourgeois forms “(2, vol. 12, 731-732). ” The so-called historical development rests in general on the fact that the last in time form regards the previous as steps to itself and always understands them one-sidedly, for it is only very rare and only under certain conditions it is capable of self-criticism. “(2. t. 46, part 1, 42-43).
Marx speaks specifically about the abstractions and categories of political economy, but the idea developed by him is undoubtedly applicable to any branch of knowledge that deals with human history. The basic concepts that the humanities inevitably use have evolved in the Modern Age, and the application of these concepts to societies of the distant past is fraught with the danger of attributing to them such relationships, which then did not exist, at least in developed and developed form. And here, only a strictly historical approach to similar categories and general concepts can serve as a guarantee, the consciousness that they are in themselves a result of a long development. It is difficult to name another historical epoch, in relation to which the said one-sidedness would have reached the same truly homeric dimensions as the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, I believe,
The peculiarity of modern historical and cultural research in I see (in any case, for myself) that it involves the inclusion of its historian-bearer, and with its mediation and readers, in communication with the culture under study. We come into contact with the world of thoughts and feelings of people who once lived, in an interaction, the condition of which is careful observance and a clear awareness of the distance, of us, the interlocutors sharing.
Here it is necessary to recall the function of historical knowledge as a form of social self-awareness. We are asking the past, the people who once lived, and for this purpose we are trying to decipher the messages they left. But the questions we ask them are determined primarily not by the nature of the sources at our disposal – the remnants of civilizations and societies that have sunk into oblivion. These issues are dictated by modern consciousness, the interest generated by our civilization, the situation in which we are. In other words, the problems developed by historians are, in the final analysis, the actual problems of our culture. Observation of the lives of people of other epochs also implies, in some measure, self-observation. (One of the shrewd readers of this book asked the author whether the subjects studied in it were realized: the perception of time and space, the attitude towards the individual, to the law, property and labor as problems of the people of the Middle Ages, or are these issues dictated by the modern historian? No doubt, with a kind of form these topics occupied the people of that era, but the persistence with which the modern medievalist sets these questions to medieval sources is primarily due to their current relevance.)
But this consideration must be correctly understood. Of course, we are not simply transferring our knowledge of modern life to the lives of people of the distant past – there can be nothing more antihistorical! It is not a matter of solving problems, but of setting them up. We ask our people for other epochs, societies and civilizations our questions, but we expect to receive their answers, because only in this case dialogue is possible. Therefore, we must agree that historical knowledge is inevitably a dialogue of cultures, that for him both sides are equally necessary: the culture of the past that is the subject of study, and the modern culture to which the researcher belongs, on behalf of which he seeks to tie this dialogue.