Dissertation Abstract

Nietzsche, Anzaldúa, and the Ethics of Historical An-archism

Brief narrative abstract:
Is it possible to encompass competing historical accounts within a unified narrative? Do we need new models of historical memory to bear witness to traumatic experiences that rupture the sense of a unified self? Ethical debates often appeal to the “right side of history” without questioning what or who constitutes “history” while efforts to respond to historical sites of contestation and oppression are often frustrated by perceived failures of historical testimony, memory, and communicability. I mobilize the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche and Gloria Anzaldúa to offer new ways of thinking history and historiography in the aftermath of violence. Nietzsche was concerned that secular historicism imbued history with moral authority in the guise of a universal telos or archē while regarding the past as a fossilized foundation for human action, both of which leave no room for ethical revaluation and creativity. Anzaldúa struggled to forge a living history from within shifting social and geographical ecologies of colonized borderlands where the political and material consequences of historical erasure and violence continue to result in traumatization and oppression. I argue that Anzaldúa and Nietzsche both provide accounts of history that resist universalizing, assimilationist tendencies while showing that history is created as we individually and collectively weave together the fragmented histories we are and live within each moment. Nietzsche’s account, however, is not without its own ethical quandaries. I thus critique and expand his view by drawing on Gloria Anzaldúa’s autohistoria-teoría, decolonial theory, and trauma studies to further argue that reinterpreting and rewriting history are essential modes of human historicity and integral features of collective liberatory praxis. The result is a dynamic and an-archic concept of history that allows us to honor the multiplicity of inheritances contemporary selves grapple with through ethical engagement with the past and present. While I maintain that history does, in fact, make a claim upon us, I emphasize that this claim is not moral and absolute, but ethical and existential; we are not responsible to history, but for it, as the possibility we are.