The historian and the judge

I might have earlier confessed my appreciation for an Italian early modern historian, Carlo Ginzburg. I am a fan of all things Ginzburgian: the tales of radical ideas of Benandanti, or his famous Menocchio; the description of history’s evidential; and a politically inflected book, The Judge and the Historian. Ginzburg writes in the latter book about the trial of a friend. A present day radical, autonomist, intellectual, Adriano Sofri was charged of the crime of murder on the evidence of a self-confessing repentant. A territory that was not unfamiliar to the historian. Confessions of heresy and confessions of political conspiracy are not that far between. And the historian is trained to reconstruct scenes of crime, and belief, turned cold and barren by time. Ginzburg teaches us that the historian can known the mind and practice of the judge intimately and hold justice in contempt.

But what is true of the historian looking into the courtroom, is true of the judge looking out. Baltasar Garzon is the Spanish judge that made headlines when he prosecuted Augusto Pinochet and forced the dictator to a few weeks of uncertainty and embarrassed the Labour government to argue for Pinochet’s save return to Chile. All that Garzon does is controversial. Some of what he does is law. Some is also history. In one of his latest projects he has sought to reopen the wounds of the Spanish Civil war, 70 years past, to reconstruct crimes, but also to reconstruct meanings. For what is at stake is the job of the historian: making the past intelligible, in equal measure close and removed, to examine a story with characters filled with life and humanity but that are no longer living, that are no longer us.

One thought on “The historian and the judge

  1. As a young academic I had the opportunity to hear Carlo Ginzburg read from lectures based on The Cheese And The Worms before it was published.

    It was an enlightenment and one never forgets.

    You last line is true–brilliance about the past, or even about the present cannot save the world. But there is at least one work of Ginzburg about the future–perhaps his most important work–the little essay, “Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method”.

    The importance of this essay in not its phenotype but its cryptotype, namely the Calvinist Capitalist need to identify “individuals”, and the methods not only used but accepted as valid subconsciously even by the enemies of Capitalism.

    It is there exactly, in unveiling what the genuine anti-individual has to become–that the system will all fall down, and Ginzburg’s is an essential clue, at least as essential as those offered by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus.

    There are other hints emerging daily, including in some of the speeches of Evo Morales.

    A new age is dawning, and there may be much blood before it is finished, but there is no turning back and there is no stopping.

    Thanks for posting this.


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