Who Are You Really, and What Were You Before?: Reflections on a Thinking Life

  • Giles Gunn


When Humphrey Bogart turns to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca and puts to her the question that forms the title of this essay asking in addition, ‘What did you do, and what did you think?’ she gently puts him off with the reminder, ‘We said no questions.’ Bergman’s refusal to answer does not mean that for her the past has no place in their relationship; indeed, the past will eventually determine the limits on where their relationship can go and what it can become. While Bergman has something she prefers to keep private, even though she has no reason at the time to believe that it will make any difference to Bogart (her marriage to the Paul Henreid character whom she now assumes is dead), the real reason for her reticence is that she, like the movie, believes that the only past that is important for Bogart to know anything about is the one out of whose traces in the present she hopes they can build a life together in the future. This is pretty much how the past will be treated here. The only past that will matter is the one that has influenced the intellectual formation of the present, which is to say the only past that, in its efforts to define itself, the present needs for the sake of its own narrativization. We tell stories out of the present for the sake of finding in the past elements for the emplotment of what, in effect, is a potentially meaningful future.


Intellectual Culture Human Solidarity Lionel Trilling Intellectual Formation Meaningful Future 
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© Jon R. Stone 2000

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  • Giles Gunn

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