The Enigma of the Past: Ricoeur’s Theory of Narrative as a Response to Heidegger

  • Pol VandeveldeEmail author
Part of the Contributions to Hermeneutics book series (CONT HERMEN, volume 2)


This chapter examines how Ricoeur has used two Heideggerean distinctions in order to circumscribe the “enigma of the past”: first, the distinction between the past that is no longer (Vergangenheit) and the past that is still relevant and meaningful to us (das Gewesene) and, second, the distinction between an event (Ereignis), as what makes history possible, and a historical fact, as what falls into historical times and can be recorded. In order to situate the problem I appeal to Nietzsche’s second “Untimely Consideration” about the “uses and disadvantages of history for life,” which both Ricoeur and Heidegger use and in which Nietzsche speaks of the “power of the present,” when it comes to retelling the past. Both Heidegger and Ricoeur acknowledge this power. However, against Heidegger’s view that there is a rupture between Historie and Geschichte or between event and historical facts, Ricoeur sees narratives as guaranteeing a continuity between these two poles. In order to test the plausibility and fruitfulness of Ricoeur’s and Heidegger’s distinctions, the chapter examines some “events” at the end of WWII that belong to “German suffering” and examine the nature of the delay that took place between the “happening” of these events and their recognition several decades later as “historical facts.”


History Narrative Event Attestation German suffering 


  1. Anonymous. 2005. A woman in Berlin. Eight weeks in the conquered city: A diary. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
  2. Beevor, Antony. 2005. Introduction. In A woman in Berlin. Eight weeks in the conquered city: A diary, ed. Anonymous. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
  3. Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. 2005. Foreword. In A woman in Berlin. Eight weeks in the conquered city: A diary. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
  4. Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la sexualité 2. L’usage des plaisirs. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  5. Foucault, Michel. 1985. History of sexuality, Vol. 2 The use of the pleasure (trans: Hurley, R.). New York: Vintage books.Google Scholar
  6. Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and time (trans: Macquarrie, John and Robinson, Edward). New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  7. Heidegger, Martin. 1971. The origin of the work of art. In Poetry, language, thought, 15–87 (trans: Hofstadter, A.). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  8. Heidegger, Martin. 1977. Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes. In Holzwege, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 5, ed. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, 1–74. Klostermann: Frankfurt am Main.Google Scholar
  9. Heidegger, Martin. 1984. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer.Google Scholar
  10. Heidegger, Martin. 1996. Nietzsche, erster band. Gesamtausgabe vol. 6.1, ed. Brigitte Schilbach. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.Google Scholar
  11. Heidegger, Martin. 1998. Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache. Freiburger Vorlesung Sommersemester, Gesamtausgabe 38, ed. Günter Seubold. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.Google Scholar
  12. Iyer, Arun. 2014. Towards an epistemology of ruptures: The case of Heidegger and Foucault. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  13. New York Times. 2007. A woman in Berlin by Anonymous.
  14. Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1972. Die Geburt der Tragödie, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen I-III (1872–1874). In Nietzsche Werke kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giogio Colli, Mazzino Montinari, Dritte Abteilung, and Erster Band. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  15. Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1997. Untimely meditations, ed. Daniel Breazeale (trans: Hollingsdale, R.J.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Overy, Richard. 2014. The bombers and the bombed: Allied air war over Europe 1940–1945. New-York: Viking.Google Scholar
  17. Ricoeur, Paul. 1984. The reality of the historical past, The aquinas lecture. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Ricoeur, Paul. 1985. Temps et récit 3, Le temps raconté. Paris: Les Editions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  19. Ricoeur, Paul. 1988. Time and narrative Vol. 3 (trans: Blamey, K. and Pellauer, D.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Ricoeur, Paul. 1990. Soi-même comme un autre. Paris: Editions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  21. Ricoeur, Paul. 1991. Life in quest of narrative. In On Paul Ricoeur. Narrative and interpretation, ed. David Wood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Ricoeur, Paul. 1992. Oneself as another (trans: Blamey, K.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Ricoeur, Paul. 2000. La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli. Paris: Editions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  24. Ricoeur, Paul. 2004. Memory, history, forgetting (trans: Blamey, K. and Pellauer, D). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Ricoeur, Paul. 2005. Memory, history, forgiveness: A dialogue between Paul Ricoeur and Sorin Antohi. Janus Head 8(1): 14–25.Google Scholar
  26. Sebald, W.G. 2003. On the natural history of destruction (trans: Bell, A.). London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  27. Vandevelde, Pol. 2008. The challenge of the ‘such as it was’: Ricoeur’s theory of narratives. In Reading Ricoeur, ed. David Kaplan, 141–162. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  28. Vandevelde, Pol. 2012. Heidegger and the romantics: The literary invention of meaning. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Vandevelde, Pol. 2013. Le fondement ontologique du récit selon Ricoeur: mimesis, dette et attestation. Studia Phaenomenologica XIII: 244–259.Google Scholar
  30. Vandevelde, Pol. 2015. Two French variations on truth: Ricoeur’s attestation and Foucault’s “parrhesiastic” attitude. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 46(1): 33–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Vonnegut, Kurt. 1994. Slaughterhouse-five or the children’s crusade: A duty-dance with death. New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMarquette UniversityMilwaukeeUSA

Personalised recommendations