The title Metahistory may seem deceptive: I approached the book imagining that its author, Hayden White, is attempting to create another speculative philosophy of history in the lines of Hegel, Spengler, and Toynbee. Instead, White treats patterns of history in a post-structuralist perspective: he analyzes historiographies of prominent historians and philosophers of history in the nineteenth century alike and analyze their work as result of specific tropes and particular aims of these historians and philosophers. Hence, the works of Hegel, Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville, Burckhardt, Marx, Nietzsche, and Croce are categorized within the four tropes of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony--with White himself writing in irony. In addition, explanations of historiographical works can be based on emplotment, argument, and ideological implication, roughly correlated to one another in this fashion:
Mode of Employment/ Mode of Argument/ Mode of Ideological Implication Romantic/ Formist/ Anarchist Tragic/ Mechanistic/ Radical Comic/ Organicist/ Conservative Satirical/ Contextualist/ Liberal
White's work, then, is meta-historical in the sense that he perceives language as the key, or meta-aspect, beyond all writings of historiography. A poetic and linguistic approach to history, then, is announced to introduce a post-structuralist reading of writers and interpreters of past events.
Hayden White's work, then, attempts to reject a perception of history that Collingwood sets out in his Idea of History; previous debates on the nature of history is replaced by an array of writers in history characterized by difference in style, while causality is abandoned in place of plurality. However, I am still at this point inclined to subscribe to Collingwood's view that history is the reenactment of thoughts of historians, who are but imaging the thoughts of his treated subjects. In the Collingwoodian sense, history is kept as a continuation of thought, an idea that man consciously "remembers" and attempts to reach through their own thoughts. In this sense, then, history can be kept true regardless of the format that it is kept; man can interpret the artifacts of the past regardless of its status as a historical account, a part of archive, a chronicle of events, or physical object of the past like a palace, a piece of art, or even a coin. On the other hand, the metahistorical analysis of history is itself limited by language--and especially in the form of written language. Its ability of explanation is limited by the form of historical accounts and therefore cannot be complete.