Presentist Variations on the Theme and Reference in (Music) Historiography

Panos Vlagopoulos


Terms referring to historical persons and/or events are problematic, in that they
present us with a peculiar shallowness (“shallow” meaning here: as deep as a spot on
a picture). Reference to historical objects, like reference to surrounding reality,
is possible, but, unlike reference to reality, is subject to the ontological
limitations of the quasi-non-existence of the past. This is a modified presentist
thesis: “Presentist” in the sense that the only level upon which reference in history
writing is acknowledged is the historian’s present; “Modified” because reference to
the past is accepted, but only in the sense that the latter is ascribed a
quasi-existence, a bi-dimensional analogical picture (Goodman), as it were, whereupon
historical objects are spots of various sizes, colors, and shapes. A text by George
Perle on Machaut is used to illustrate historiographical alternatives on the basis of
the above considerations.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; presentism; reference; illness of history

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