Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Historicism in Star Trek: A Creative Way to Break Out of the Series Canon?

J.J. Abrams may have done it to the dismay of long-time Star Trek fans, but is historicism a creatively valid way to break out of the Star Trek series canon?

By: Ringo Bones

Any work of Star Trek not adhering to the established series canon is often seen as an anathema by long-time Trekkies and Trekkers and is more often than not dismissed as nothing more than an aberration usually relegate to the dustbin of failed Star Trek concepts. J.J. Abrams’ rework of the established series canon in the recent Star Trek motion picture may have received howls of derision from veteran Trekkers but its state-of-the-art visual effects allowed it soldier on instead of being relegated to those Star Trek works deemed “too unconventional” for mainstream consumption by self-respecting Trekkies and Trekkers. But can there be a “creative” way to break out of the established Star Trek series canon while still embracing the “soul” that made long-time Trekkies and Trekkers fell in love with Star Trek in the first place?

Historicism is a not so oft used concept that may be already be used in the past – although not very often – Star Trek TV episodes. Historicism is a term derived from the German Historismus, which was first used in 1879 to characterize the mindset of Giovanni Battista Vico. It denotes an attitude which interprets all human concepts, values, and institutions as entirely the products of some individual and unrepeatable historical development, and hence limited and relative, without claim to universal meaning.

Historicism arose during the 19th Century in conscious opposition to the attitude of the Enlightenment, which had emphasized the constant and universal features of human life, and, as David Hume said, wrote history only to exhibit them. Historicism received its primary impetus from the Romantic Movement and was fostered in subsequent years by the great development and increasing specialization of historical studies throughout the civilized world.

Historicism’s impact upon philosophical thought had taken three main forms: a) it impugned the classical philosophy of history, which envisaged human life as a unitary development in time, realizing universal values of exemplifying universal laws; b) it urged that the logic of historical inquiry must differ from that of natural science, for the general laws by which natural science explains repetitive – or repeatable – physical events; c) its assertion of the relativity values seemed to threaten the capacity of mankind for strong conviction and decisive action.

The problem with historical relativism exercised many thinkers, in particular Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923). On the other hand, Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), a well-known historicist, denied the reality of the problem of historical relativism. In Croce’s view, historicism – far from being a threat to values – protects them from being from abstraction and convention, and assures their continuous efficacy within the living current of history. From the view of pragmatic science fiction creative writing, does historicism have any useful applications?

An aspect of historicism that’s been used in Star Trek storytelling is that particular Next generation episode when the android Lt. Commander Data refused to allow top scientists form the United Federation of Planets to reverse-engineer his positronic brain citing that they may not be able to put him back together again, citing that his sentience and overall cognition is entirely the product of his own individual and unrepeatable historical development. Does this too apply the debate between Nature versus Nurture when it comes to human development?

Another concept found in the Star Trek universe that hopefully has not yet invaded ours is the reality of time travel. Time travel – as seasoned science fiction already know – tend to deny the reality of an unrepeatable historical development. As evident in Star Trek: First Contact where Captain Picard travels back in time to undue what the Borg did when they changed the timeline. The time travel incident behind Star Trek: First Contact somewhat made the established series canon of Star Trek somewhat gain a modicum of flexibility. Like how the last Enterprise series was structured. It looks like historicism might be the useful tool needed to sort out a tangled timeline if time travel ever becomes routine.


VaneSSa said...

Thanks to J.J. Abrams' rework of the established Gene Roddenberry canon, historicism is now a necessity in Star Trek.

Ringo said...

Due to frequent use of time travel, Star Trek probably has to use those "quirky" Back to the Future-style timelines - or resort to historicism just to keep us informed which segment of the timeline / canon got changed again. Maybe Gene Roddenberry should have stayed away from time travel scenarios as far as the original series.

Heidi Gail said...

After what I knew of the "formal" and "academic" definition of historicism, I think science fiction - not exactly Gene Roddenberry's science fiction as in Star Trek - is a great way to break out of humanity's "scholarly conundrum" when it comes to assessing history untainted by historicism.

Letiche said...

Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek - or the philosophical views of the series - could be defined as a way to transcend the limitations imposed by historicism. Like the prevailing morays of 1960s America badly needing post-structural historicism so that the American society can progress beyond the societal limitations that kept the Civil Rights Movement from achieving the desired goals.

VaneSSa said...

Maybe the inter-racial kissing scene between Kirk and Uhura was Gene Roddenberry's attempt at breaking out of prevailing "historicism" of 1960s America?