One of the most famous anecdotes about the passing of time is from the early 1970s, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought about the French Revolution, to which he replied: ‘It is too early to say’. The fact that the interpreter has later pointed out that Zhou probably thought the question was about the student revolt of just a few years earlier (which in China was talked about as ‘the Revolution in France’) should not blind us to the underlying quandary with which the story presents us: When is it possible, from a historical, sociological, or philosophical point of view, to say anything authoritative about an event in history?
Those of us who reflect on the aftermath of July 22nd are constantly confronted with the question of our temporal proximity or distance to the fatal events. We are doing research in ‘real time’, while political debates are still ongoing and impressions are still being formed, and to a certain extent we are reflecting on and analyzing those very processes.
The challenge consists in the arguable fact that it may be only with the benefit of real hindsight – decades, maybe even centuries – that we can say in any definitive fashion how July 22nd and similar events of our time formed Norway and the world.
Having said that, we believe we find ourselves somehow between immediacy and ‘safe distance’. This is, arguably, a useful point of departure for research. Impressions are still fresh, but at the same time normalcy has set back in. The shock and horror are still vivid, but we can also start to draw conclusions about how they have formed us, and what happens when they are receding for the population at large, while they still touch deeply those who were directly impacted by the events.
It is always worth reflecting on one’s chronological standpoint vis-à-vis the events studied, and to remember that one is not only an observer, but in many ways also a partaker in those events one seeks to study.