Linda Hutcheon's ¡"

"Historiographic Metafiction: 'The Pastime of Past time'"

from Hutcheon, Linda.  A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: 1988.
Presented by Angela Wei, 11/4, 1998
History and Fiction Fictiveness and Reality Postmodern Novels 
Historical Novel V.S.Hitoriographic Metafiction ¡@ Historiography and Fiction
Historiographic metafiction:
Historiographic metafiction is one kind of postmodern novel which rejects projecting present beliefs and standards onto the past and asserts the specificity and particularity of the individual past event. It also suggests a distinction between ¡§events¡¨ and ¡§facts¡¨ that is one shared by many historians. Since the documents become signs of events, which the historian transmutes into facts, as in historiographic metafiction, the lesson here is that the past once existed, but that our historical knowledge of it is semiotically transmitted. Finally, Historiographic metafiction often points to the fact by using the paratextual conventions of historiography to both inscribe and undermine the authority and objectivity of historical sources and explanations. (122-123, Linda Hutcheon)
  1. Facts and Events: Hutcheon mentions a fact is discourse-defined; an event is not, in other words, events have no meaning in themselves and facts are given meaning. Do you agree? Why?
  2. History and Fiction: Since history can be fictional and fiction can be veracity, do you think if there is still a line between history and fiction?

  3. What does the title of this article mean? Is the title related to Midnight's Children? Does Hutcheon's definition of historiographical metafiction help us understand Midnight's Children or ¡m°ª¬â¦Ê¦X¡n ¡H

I. Postmodern views of history and fiction

Postmodern theory and art, and recent critical readings of both history and fiction focus on what the two modes of writing share than on how they differ. (105)

A. Verisimilitude rather then Objective truth:

They [both fiction and historiography] have both been seen to derive their force more from verisimilitude than from any

objective truth. (105)

B. Identified as linguistic Constructs:

They are both identified as linguistic constructs, highly conventionalized in their

narrative forms, and not at all transparent either in terms of language or structure. (105)

C. Equally Intertextual:

They appear to be equally intertexual, deploying the texts of the past within their own

complex textuality. (105)

II. The relationship between History and Literature in history

The separation of the two disciplines happened in the nineteenth century, marked, for instance, by the rise of "scientific fiction" or the rise of university. Before then literature and history were considered branches of the same tree of learning, a tree for interpreting experience, for the purpose of guiding and elevating man. (105).

  1. In the last century, historical writing and historical novel writing influenced each other mutually. Ex. Dickens¡¦s to Carlyle in A Tale of Two Cities. (106).
  2. Today, the new skepticism of suspicion about the writing history challenges historiography in novels. Ex. Shame, The Public Burning, or A Maggot. (106).
These novels question their common use of conventions of narrative, of reference, of the inscribing of subjectivity, and their identity as textuality and their implication in ideology.
III. The awareness of fictiveness and reality can be traced to 18th century.
  1. Claiming "Truth¡¨ in narrative: The writers of novels from the start in 18th century seemed determined to pretend that their work is not made[invented] but simply exist. (107). Ex. Defoe¡¦s works claim to veracity and convinced some readers that they were factual. (But Readers today or readers of contemporary historiography metafiction are aware fictiveness and reality) e.g. the use of witnesses' letters.
  2. Contemporary Fiction questions of the relation of story and history: Michael Coetzee¡¦s novel Foe (1986) reveals the storytellers and historians can certainly silence, exclude and absent certain past events and suggest the historians have done the same. Ex. Where are the women in the traditional histories of 18th century? (107).
  3. Lies to multiple truths: The 18th century concern for lies and falsity becomes a postmodern concern for multiplicity and dispersion of truths and truths relative to the specific place and culture. (108).
IV. The assertions and characteristics of postmodern novels: the plural truths, the
problems of the rewritings of history and the need and the danger to separate
fiction and history as two different genres. (111).
  1. Postmodern novels openly assert that there are only truths in the plural and never one Truth ; and there is rarely falseness per se, just others¡¦ truths. Ex. Flaubert¡¦s Parrot, Famous Last Words, and A Maggot. (109)
  2. Postmodern fiction suggests that to re-write and to present the past in fiction and in history is to open it up to the present, to prevent it from being conclusive. Ex. Susan Daitch¡¦s L. C. There are two historical reconstruction and two translations of Lucienne¡¦s ending. (110).
  3. The rewriting history is also problematic.
  4. To take the film about Chekhov¡¦s Journey as example, the actor begins to alter

    the dates of verifiable historical events, moving the Tunguska explosion from

    1888 to 1908. Then, the film became a projection of "a choas of unhistory." (110).

  5. History and fiction are not the same even though they share social, cultural,
ideological contexts, as well as formal techniques. [Hayden White sees

historiography as emplotment.]

    1. Paul Veyne signals the two genres¡¦ [history and fiction¡¦s] conventions: selection, organization, diegesis, anecdote, temporal pacing, and emplotment but they are not ¡§the same of discourse¡¨ (111).
    2. Novels incorporate social and political history to some extent, though the extent will vary; but history only emphasis its historical development.(italic is added by me, 111).
  1. Postmodernism deliberately confuses the notion that history¡¦s problem is verification, while fiction¡¦s is veracity. (112).
    1. Both forms of narratives are signifying systems in our culture.(112).
    2. Both are Doctorow¡¦s modes of ¡§mediating the world for the purpose of introducing meaning¡¨ (112) [It is necessary for us to make meanings that historiographic metafiction reveals.]
V. The assertions and characteristics of historiographic metafiction:
  1. Historiographic metafiction suggests the continuing relevance of [fiction and fact] such an opposition. (113).
  2. Historiographic metafiction both install [inscribes] and then blurs the line between fiction and history. Ex. From the classical epic, the Bible to the assertion and overt of postmodern fictions.
  3. The differences between historical novel and historiographic metafiction:
  1. Historical novels present the generalized and concentrated microcosm. However, it is difficult to generalize about historiographic metafiction because history plays a great number of different roles, at different levels of generality, in its various manifestations. (113).
  2. Three differences-- Lukacs¡¦s belief the three major defining characteristics of historical novel:
Historical Novel Historiographic Metafiction 
The protagonist should be a type. The protagonists are anything but proper  
The accuracy or even truth of detail is  

Irrelevant in order to achieve historical faithfulness: usually assimilates the data to lend a feeling of verifiability..

Two different ways to contests this: 1.plays upon the truth and lies of the historical record. 2 use historical data but rarely assimilate such data.
Historical personages are secondary roles as if to hide the joins between fiction and history in a formal and ontological sleight of hand. The metafictional self-reflexive novels pose that ontological join as a problem: how do know the past and what can we know of it now?

VI. The issues about the interaction of historiography and fiction are the nature of
identity and subjectivity, the question of reference and representation, the
intertexual nature of the past, and the ideological nature of past.

  1. The nature of identity and subjectivity: We do not find a subject confident of his/her ability to know the past with any certainty. (117). Ex. Midnight¡¦s children: nothing survives the instability caused by the rethinking of the past in noon-developmental, non-continuous terms. (118). Postmodernism both installs and then subverts traditional concepts of subjectivity. (118).
  2. The intertexual nature of the past:
    1. Parody is one of the postmodern ways of literally incorporating the textualized past into the text of the present. (118).
    2. Postmodern intertextuality has a desire to close the gap between past and present of the reader and a new desire to rewrite the past in a new context. (118).
    3. Postmodern novels teach that both fiction and history actually refer the first level to other texts: we know the past only through its textualized remains. (119).
  1. The new questions about reference: "To which discursive context could this language belong? To which prior textualizations must we refer?"¨ Postmodern art suggests that there is no presence, no external truth which verifies or unifies but there is only self-reference. Historiographic metafiction self-consciously suggests this, but then uses it to signal the discursive nature of all reference. (119).
  2. The ideology of postmodernism while regarding history: "every representation of the past has specifiable ideological implications."¨. [The postmodern ideology is paradoxical for its claiming and denying its own truth, for questioning the history it seeks to reconstruct, for critiquing the ideologies it is influenced by ]. It is part of the postmodern ideology not to ignore cultural bias and interpretative conventions and to question authority-even its own. (121).