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Linda Hutcheon's ¡"

"Historiographic Metafiction: 'The Pastime of Past

from Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New
York: 1988.
Presented by Angela Wei, 11/4, 1998
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)

• Questions:
A. 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?
B. 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?
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).
A. 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).
B. 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.
A. 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.
B. 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).
C. 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).
A. 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)
B. 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).
C. The rewriting history is also problematic.
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).
D. 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).
A. 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:
A. Historiographic metafiction suggests the continuing relevance of [fiction and fact]
such an opposition. (113).
B. 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.
C. 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
The accuracy or even truth of detail is Two different ways to contests this:
1.plays upon the truth and lies of the
Irrelevant in order to achieve historical historical record. 2 use historical data
faithfulness: usually assimilates the data but rarely assimilate such data.
to lend a feeling of verifiability..

Historical personages are secondary The metafictional self-reflexive novels

roles as if to hide the joins between pose that ontological join as a problem:
fiction and history in a formal and how do know the past and what can we
ontological sleight of hand. 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.
A. 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).
B. 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.
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.
A. 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).
B. 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).