Letter to the Editor

On "Counterfactual History"

Ty Geltmaker, October 2015

To the editor:

In their "Counterfactual History" essays (May 2015), Mark Grimsley and Yoav Tenembaum make the shrewd point that asking "What if?" is recognition that "any argument that makes a causal claim contains an implicit counterfactual" and that asking "What if?" "is not designed to depict a scenario thatcould nothave happened, but rather one that might have happened." This recognition of "the importance of chance or accident in human affairs" took me back some years to an enlightening conversation with a young Czech historian who described counterfactual history-with a wry eastern European nod to an entire literary tradition-as "retrospective futurology." Seeing the wisdom in that formulation, I ask myself: What if I had never met that smart young man from Prague in a mountain forest above Palm Springs?

Ty Geltmaker, Los Angeles


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