Historicism, Hal Foster (1996: 10) notes, can be negatively defined in the most simple terms as the conflation of before and after with cause and effect, by making the presumption that the prior event produces the later one.

Foster also notes that historicism in this sense pervades art history and modernist studies.

The question of how causality, temporality, narrativity and their inter-relationships are conceptualised and thought through is a crucial one for narrative environment design. Particular care should be taken to consider whether, in your design, you are encouraging an historicist reading or reception of it, and whether this is what you intend. The issue might be expressed as follows: how can complex causality be articulated through the temporalities brought into play by the plotting of narrativity?

The issue of causality, in relation to temporality and narrativity, brings into play the notions of complexity, chaos, chance and fate or, in another vocabulary, questions of determinism, over-determination and under-determination.


Foster, H. (1996). Who’s afraid of the neo-avant-garde? In: The Return of the real: the avant-garde at the end of the century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1–33.

edited 25 September, 2016 by Allan Parsons

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