Just a quick thought experiment, today.
Choose one person and ask three questions: What’s the most amazing place you’ve ever been? Who’d you go there with? What happened while you were there? With answers to those three questions, we can write a sentence that says “When [person] went to [place] with [people] she had an amazing time because [a, b, & c].”
Suppose I write such a sentence. For everyone else in the world, our imagination of that narrative scene will be restricted by the language I choose to put down. But for all who lived through that experience, it’s the opposite. Their mental images of that scene are excited by my words. Rather than language restricting imagination, their memory restricts what my words have the power to imply.
Meaning depends on the audience, but savvy writers know this. They’ve always known this.
In writing history, we are NOT entirely the prisoners of language, because of audience memory.
It’s ironic that the critic used reader response to undermine writers’ authority, because whenever readers hold power at all, they have a say in deciding which texts are going to survive. Aware of this, savvy writers have always played with and against the responses they could anticipate. As for the less savvy writers, well, they don't get preserved much in our discussions, do they? In historical masterpieces, to some extent or another, Irony was preemptively at work from the composition’s beginning.
Collective memory restricts historical writing, and Memory includes non-verbal narrative. Therefore, Language is not supreme. Still, we remember, Narrative is not supreme either. Irony is always supreme.
The greatest Irony restricting Historians is Audience Memory.
The weight of the past plays a role in its own remembrance.