S Rewriting History: Historiographic Metafiction and the English Novel in the 1980s
3.02.121: S Rewriting History - Historiographic Metafiction and the English Novel in the 1980s
- [Module] ang612 - Periods and Key Figures
- [Credits] 6 KP
- [Instructor] Dr. Christian Lassen
- [Time] Wednesday, 08.15 am - 09.45 am, weekly session, consisting of the following two parts: plenary session, discussing the asynchronous presentation (8.15 am - 9.30 am); and prepararory session for presentation groups (9.30 am - 9.45 am); nota bene: presentations will not be given in class but they will be made available on Stud.IP the Friday before they are scheduled, i.e. watching the presentations prior to the relevant sessions constitues a mandatory course requirement.
- [Room] A01 0-010b
- [Description] Inquiries into the representation of history are of pivotal relevance for an academic field, such as literary and cultural studies, whose principle claims are based on the idea that the past continues to exercise its influence over the present and that, consequently, our identities and our sense of self do not come from inside ourselves so much as from a pre-existing, all-encompassing culture. Historiography (and thus the writing of history) has in fact always been a contested academic field, ranging from Leopold von Ranke's (pseudo-)empiricist nineteenth-century call to represent history "as it actually happened" ("wie es eigentlich gewesen ist") to Walter Benjamin's modern insight that "all history is written by the victor". More recently, historians like Hayden White and literary scholars like Linda Hutcheon have encouraged an understanding of history as narrative and narration that allows them and other postmodern scholars to question and deconstruct history's 'grand narratives', which have, over time, come to present themselves as monolithic truths. The 1980s were then witness to the emergence of a genre – historiographic metafiction – that has since been particularly resourceful when it comes to interrogating, revising, and subverting obsolete historical truisms through literary representations that now put forward numerous non-normative voices and points of view. In this seminar, we will discuss three texts that rewrite history in this particular way: Graham Swift's Waterland – a regional intervention that juxtaposes local and global history by presenting a middle-aged history teacher who writes an alternative history of his home, The Fens; Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger – a feminist intervention told from the perspective of a war correspondent who comes to re-envision World War II and the end of the Empire in her very own 'history of the world'; and finally, Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming-Pool Library – a queer intervention that provides an alternative account of twentieth-century history from a gay male point of view that discloses homophobic violence and discrimination, even as it exposes the dilemma of a narrator/biographer whose complicity with the workings of homosociality cannot bring him to completely dissociate himself from the very forces that produce his subjection.
- [Office Hours] Tuesday, 10.00 am - 11.00 am
PRIMARY TEXTS (Mandatory Reading)
- Swift, Graham. Waterland. 1983. London: Picador, 2010. Print. (ISBN 0330518216; or any other edition)
- Lively, Penelope. Moon Tiger. 1987. London: Penguin, 2015. Print. (ISBN 9780141044842; or any other edition)
- Hollinghurst, Alan. The Swimming-Pool Library. 1988. London: Vintage, 2015. Print. (ISBN 1784870315; or any other edition)
- [Prüfungsleistung] asynchrones (Gruppen-)Referat (max. 5 Personen; ca. 20 Folien) mit Schriftlicher Ausarbeitung (10 Seiten) [oder in Ausnahmefällen: Hausarbeit (15 Seiten)]
- [Aktive Teilnahme] Regular Attendance (cf. Richtlinien der Fakultät III, Studiendekanat), Course Preparation (i.e. watching the asynchronous presentations), 3 Abstracts
Please note that written assignments (abstracts, short term papers, long term papers) need to be composed according to the style sheet ("Leitfaden")of the University of Oldenburg, which can be accessed via the 'Institutswiki'-page of the English department. The style sheet not only provides relevant information on how to write a correct bibliography but it may also help you to structure your work according to academic standards.
Please make sure to sign the "Erklärung zum 'Plagiat'" and to attach it to your research papers.
- [Abgabefrist] 15. März 2023.
- 1 Session 01, October 19: Introduction
- 2 Session 02, October 26: Historiographic Metafiction I: History as Narrative and Narration
- 3 Session 03, November 02: Historiographic Metafiction II: Deconstructing History's 'Grand Narratives'
- 4 Session 04, November 09: Waterland in Context - Regional Perspectives
- 5 Session 05, November 16: Local History - Tom Crick's History of the Fens
- 6 Session 06, November 23: Global History - Tom Crick's Disillusioned History Lessons
- 7 Session 07, November 30, Moon Tiger in Context - Feminist Perspectives
- 8 Session 08, December 07: Political Selves - Claudia Hampton, the Historian and War Correspondent
- 9 Session 09, December 14: Personal Selves - Claudia Hampton, the Autobiographer
- 10 Session 10, December 21: Mid-Term Recap
- 11 Session 11, January 11: The Swimming-Pool Library in Context - Queer Perspectives
- 12 Session 12, January 18: Revising the Past - Charles Nantwich's Diaries
- 13 Session 13, January 25: Recontextualising the Present - Will Beckwith's (Unwrittten) Biography
- 14 Session 14, February 01: RPO Session
Session 01, October 19: Introduction
Assignments are graded and mandatory. In order to obtain 6 credits (KP), you will have to give an asynchronous (group) presentation (Referat, 20 Folien) on one of the presentation topics specified in the syllabus. In addition to that, you will have to hand in a short term paper (Ausarbeitung, 10 Seiten) by the end of term (15. März). In exceptional cases, you may hand in a long term paper (Hausarbeit, 15 Seiten) instead of the above. However, an exception is only granted upon consultation.
- Presentation Topics, Presentation Groups
Presentation Topics are specified on your syllabus. In order to prepare your presentations, please pick a topic, get together in groups (see below) and write up a power-point presentation. Add your audio commentary to the presentation, save the file and send it on to me so that we can discuss your presentation during your preparatory session before you upload it. After that, you make your file available on Stud.IP on the Friday before your presentation is due so that all participants can read/ watch the presentation in time, i.e. before the session.
Requests regarding your choice of presentation topics can be send to me via e-mail, starting on Monday, October 10. Please send me three possible presentation topics and prioritise them according to your preferences. I will sign you in in the order of the requests' arrival. Please check this page regularly to see if your requests have been met.
Preparatory Sessions for presentations take place in the second part of the weekly sessions, i.e. Wednesday 9.30 am - 9.45 am. Please make sure that you send me your presentation at least one day prior to your preparatory session and that you attend said session the week before your presentation is due.
- Active Participation
Active Participation is ungraded but mandatory. In order to fulfil the requirements, you will have to attend class regularly and watch the asynchronous presentations prior to the relevant sessions. Moreover, you will have to write three abstracts, each including a topic, a state of research, a thesis statement, and a brief outline of your argument (approx. 1 page), in the course of the seminar. You can choose your own topic; however: all abstracts have to address different primary texts. In other words, your abstracts will have to cover all of the three primary materials. They are due by the end of the week (i.e. Friday) that marks the ending of the respective sections, i.e. due date Waterland: November 25th; due date Moon Tiger: December 16th; due date The Swimming-Pool Library: January 27th)
1. Pick a presentation topic and contact me via e-mail (starting October 10). Check below for available places. Presentation groups may consist of a maximum of 5 people.
2. Contact the other members of your group and prepare your presentation, i.e. power-point presentation with audio commentary.
3. Send me your presentation 8 days before your presentation is scheduled.
4. Discuss your presentation with me in your preparatory session 7 days, i.e week, before your presentation is scheduled. Preparatory sessions take place during the second part of class, i.e. Wednesday 9.30 am - 9.45 am.
5. Upload your file on the Friday before your presentation is scheduled.
6. Be ready to answer questions on the day of your presentation.
Session 02, October 26: Historiographic Metafiction I: History as Narrative and Narration
- White, Hayden. "The Fictions of Factual Representation." Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. 121-34. Print.
- White, Hayden. "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality." Critical Inquiry 7.1 (Autumn 1980): 5-27. Print.
- In "The Fictions of Factual Representation," Hayden White claims that "history is no less a form of fiction than the novel is a form of historical representation" (122). What is it that writing history and writing fiction have in common, according to White? How do both relate to standards of coherence and correspondence, respectively? How is the relationship between reality and representation conceptualised?
- As White rightly suspects, the statement above has certainly not been embraced by either historians, or writers of fiction/ literary critics, at least not initially: With regard to history and literature, how has the historical relationship between both academic fields been construed over time? When and where were they drifting apart? And for what reasons?
- The notion of representation suggests that any text is a construction of reality, albeit with different intended effects. What are the different effects produced by history and fiction, respectively? How can a self-conscious and reflected use of language expose the constructedness of said effects? What are some of the literary techniques or tropes that bring about specific constructions?
- What questions would you ask when it comes to disentanling the processes that turn facts and real events into his-story - read emphasis on both his and story?
- Moving on to White's "The Value of Narrativity," how does the distinction between narrating real events and narrativising real events reflect on subjective and objective forms of (re-)presenting said events?
- What, according to White's critique of historiography, are the criteria that produce "proper" historical accounts (9)? And how come that, paradoxically, non-narrative representations of history (annals, chronicles) seem to be less convincing when it comes to producing textual effects like 'objectivity, closure, or even authenticity?
Session 03, November 02: Historiographic Metafiction II: Deconstructing History's 'Grand Narratives'
- Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. London and New York: Routledge, 1988. Print. (Excerpts)
- Comment on the following statement:
"What postmodern writing of both history and literature has taught us is that both history and fiction are discourses, that both constitute systems of signification by which we make sense of the past […]. In other words, the meaning and shape are not in the events, but in the systems which make those past "events" into present historical "facts." This is […] an acknowledgement of the meaning-making function of human constructs." (Hutcheon 89)
- In what ways does historiographic metafiction (and the approaches of New Historicism more generally) differ/ depart from its immediate predecessors, i.e. exclusively structuralist approaches to literary analysis (see handout)? Why does context matter? How is context reconstructed in historiographic metafiction?
- While the traditional historical novel tends to focus on the universal, the central, the coherent, the norm, postmodern genres (including historiographic metafiction), informed by Foucault, tend to focus on the particular, the marginal, the dispersed, the 'other'. With regard to this (simplified) juxtaposition: What topics, themes, and perspectives are now granted representation? How do these postmodern representations affect dominant discursive formations of Western culture? And how do they reassess/redistribute/revise the hierarchies included in traditional binary views of gender (masculine/feminine); sex (male/female); sexuality (heterosexuality/homosexuality); space (urban/rural; global/local); race (white/black); class; disability; etc.
- How are these revisionist representations designed? In what ways does the change of content show in/ correspond with a change of form? Have a closer look at the following aspect (and, where possible, substantiate your findings with proof from our primary texts):
- the narrative design of a text
- the figure of the narrator
- the figure of the protagonist
- the use and function of historical details/ characters
- the use of different genres
- the use of intertextuality
Session 04, November 09: Waterland in Context - Regional Perspectives
- Swift, Graham. Waterland.
- Giblett, Rodney James. "Introduction: Where Land and Water Meet." Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology. Edinburgh, Edinburgh UP, 1996. Print.
Historical Context: James Boyce, Imperial Mud: The Fight for the Fens.
- Sketch the events that are central to the historical development of the Fens.
- How are these events turned into 'meaningful' facts that establish a dominant historical narrative of the Fens? Does Boyce agree with this dominant account?
- If not, how does he problematise it? Whose perspectives does he include? What are the opposing narratives that he identifies?
- How is the identity of the landscape of the Fens and its people construed according to dominant representations?
- Does Boyce affirm or contradict these identity constructions? How?
- Discourse Analysis:
- What positions regarding the historical development of the Fens are being represented in the text?
- Where does Boyce position himself with regard to this discourse? Does he make his position/his subjective point of view clear/transparent?
- What discourses are central to Boyce's argument?
Literary Context: Rodney James Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology.
- Nature/ Landscape:
- In what ways are wetlands, and the Fens in particular, a 'man-made' landscape?
- How do we need to reassess our idea of 'nature' with regard to culture's impact on its formation?
- Cultural Construction of Wetlands:
- According to Giblett, how does our culture construct wetlands, i.e. dominantly sppeaking? What 'meaning' is attributed wetlands?
- What other discourses are related to wetlands in our culture?
- Does Giblett discover counter-discursive voices, i.e. representations that contradict the dominant construction/ dominant representations?
- What literary example does he use in order to prove that wetlands have been construed differently in different cultural contexts, e.g. genre, time, etc.?
First Contact: Graham Swift, Waterland
- Comment on how Graham Swift's novel Waterland relates to some of the aspects above. What are your initial observations? Please substantiate your findings with textual proof.
- Preparatory Session Group: Lenara Bias, Joscha Koering, Tobias Huhle
Session 05, November 16: Local History - Tom Crick's History of the Fens
- Swift, Graham. Waterland.
- Berlatsky, Eric. "'The Swamps of Myth. . . and Empirical Fishing Lines': Historiography, Narrativity, and the 'Here and Now' in Graham Swift's Waterland." Journal of Narrative Theory 36.2 (Summer 2006): 254-92. Print.
- Cooper, Pamela. "Imperial Topographies: The Spaces of History in Waterland." MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 42.2 (1996): 371-96. Print.
- Of Water, Phlegm, and Beer: Draining, Drinking, Drowning and the Deconstruction of Progress Narratives in Waterland
- Presentation Group: Lenara Bias, Joscha Koering, Tobias Huhle
- Preparatory Session Group: Jessika Häfker, Rebekka Hänßler, Jonah Pflüger, Jan-Philipp Gomoll, Jannis Michaelis
Session 06, November 23: Global History - Tom Crick's Disillusioned History Lessons
- Swift, Graham. Waterland.
- Decoste, Damon Marcel. "Question and Apocalypse: The Endlessness of Historia in Graham Swift's Waterland." Contemporary Literature 43.2 (Summer 2002): 377-99. Print.
- Irish, Robert K. "'Let Me Tell You': About Desire and Narrativity in Graham Swift's Waterland." MFS: ModernFiction Studies 44.4 (Winter 1998): 917-34. Print.
- Landow, George P. "History, His Story, and Stories in Graham Swift’s Waterland". Studies in the Literary Imagination 23.2 (1990): 197-211. Print.
- Of Guillotines and Great Wars: Exposing History's 'Grand Narratives', their Meaning-Making Processes, and the Fear of the 'Here and Now' in Waterland
- Presentation Group: Jessika Häfker, Rebekka Hänßler, Jonah Pflüger, Jan-Philipp Gomoll, Jannis Michaelis
Session 07, November 30, Moon Tiger in Context - Feminist Perspectives
- Lively, Penelope. Moon Tiger.
- Rau, Petra. "The War in Contemporary Fiction." The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of World War II. Ed. M. MacKay. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. 207-19. Print.
- Chalk, Bridget. "The 1980s." The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction: 1980–2018. Ed. P. Boxall. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019. 17-31. Print.
- Halberstam, Jack. "Queer Temporalities, Postmodern Geographies." In a Queer Time and Place: Transgendered Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York, NY, and London: New York UP, 2005. 1-34. Print.
- Jolly, Margaretta. "After Feminism: Pat Barker, Penelope Lively, and the Contemporary Novel." British Culture of the Postwar: An Introduction to Literature and Society 1945-1999. Eds. Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 83-102. Print.
- Preparatory Session Group: Frederik Wülbers-Mindermann, Wiebke Stumpe, Seraphim Remer, Marlene Rabe
- How can postmodern and distinctly feminist and queer concepts of time (e.g. Halberstam's concept of queer time, or Freeman's concept of chromonormativity) expose the ways in which, in our culture, time is organised along normative lines?
- How does this normative organisation of time show in our culture? How does it translate into lived experiences?
- With specific regard to heteronormativity, how does the said organisation of time affect women's lives in patriarchal culture(s)?
- How do these heteronormative structures affect the (formulaic) representation of women's issues in traditional historiographic writing?
- In what ways does Claudia Hampton's narrative intentionally subvert the seemingly natural flow/ organisation of time? What happens to time-honoured conventions like chronology, linearity, and teleology when it comes to representing history, i.e. both her personal history and her publications in the fields of popular history?
- How does the novel make use of narration and focalisation in order to subvert the idea of history as monolithic truth?
- Discuss the following two scholarly positions and, where possible, substantiate your stance with textual proof:
According to Chalk, "[t]he feminist, popular historian protagonist of Penelope Lively's Mooon Tiger (1987) recollects various phases of her life in England and Egypt throughout the twentieth century, subverting the patriarchal, imperial power complex and normative assumptions surrounding the sexual lives of women" (21-2); according to Jolly, however, "Moon Tiger is an ["elegant"] study in proto-feminism, the professional woman who challenged the rules individually but, precisely because she was so successful of doing so, never made common cause with the others of her sex. [...] [due to its stylistic animation of [...] post-modern sensibilities ...] it represents only the narrowest interpretation of women's needs, one of the escape from private to public." (70-1)
Session 08, December 07: Political Selves - Claudia Hampton, the Historian and War Correspondent
- Lively, Penelope. Moon Tiger.
- Moran, Mary Hurley. "Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger: A Feminist 'History of the World." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 11.2/3 (1990): 89-95. Print.
- Raschke, Debrah. "Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger: Re-envisioning a 'history of the world'." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 26.4 (1995): 115-32. Print.
- Of History and HERstory: Feminist Subversions of Phallo(go)centric and Heteronormative Constructions of Time, History, and Narrative Linearity in Moon Tiger
- Presentation Group: Frederik Wülbers-Mindermann, Wiebke Stumpe, Seraphim Remer, Marlene Rabe
- Preparatory Session Group: Imke Hagedorn, Katja Voß, Nora Abrahim, Kasimir Berding, Sven Cordes
Session 09, December 14: Personal Selves - Claudia Hampton, the Autobiographer
- Lively, Penelope. Moon Tiger.
- Gelendening, John. "Recollection and Revision: Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger." ESC 43.1 (Marsh 2017): 67-81. Print.
- Of Recollecting, Remembering, and Resting: Memory, Identity, Death, and the Construction of Self-Narratives in Moon Tiger
- Presentation Group: Imke Hagedorn, Katja Voß, Nora Abrahim, Kasimir Berding, Sven Cordes
Session 10, December 21: Mid-Term Recap
- Discussions and Interim Results
Session 11, January 11: The Swimming-Pool Library in Context - Queer Perspectives
- Hollinghurst, Alan. The Swimming-Pool Library.
- Sinfield, Alan. "Culture, Consensus and Difference: Angus Wilson to Alan Hollinghurst." British Culture of the Postwar: An Introduction to Literature and Society 1945-1999. Eds. Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 83-102. Print.
- Cook, Matt et al., eds. A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages. Oxford and Westpoint, CT: Greenwood, 2007. Print. (Excerpts)
- Preparatory Session Group: Ronja Denkena, Gina Sperling, Jayne Menezes Lisboa, Mariska Straten, Christina Waltl
Session 12, January 18: Revising the Past - Charles Nantwich's Diaries
- Hollinghurst, Alan. The Swimming-Pool Library.
- Dellamora, Richard. "Tradition and Apocalypse in Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming-Pool Library." Apocalyptic Overtures: Sexual Politics and the Sense of an Ending. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1994. 173-91. Print.
- Johnson, Allan. "'A Gay Story, a History': Gay Male Liberation and Queer Rumination." British Literature in Transition, 1980-2000: Accelerated Times. Eds. Eileen Pollard and Berthold Schoene. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2018. 244-58. Print.
- Of Public Schools, Private Clubs, and Empty Closets: (Re-)Claiming the Hidden History of Homosexuality (and Its Ambivalent Heritage) in The Swimming-Pool Library
- Presentation Group: Ronja Denkena, Gina Sperling, Jayne Menezes Lisboa, Mariska Straten, Christina Waltl
- Preparatory Session Group: Sena Harms, Lea Harter, Stefan Gottschalk, Rebecca Stürzebecher
Session 13, January 25: Recontextualising the Present - Will Beckwith's (Unwrittten) Biography
- Hollinghurst, Alan. The Swimming-Pool Library.
- Chambers, Ross. "Messing around: gayness and loiterature in Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming-Pool Library." Textuality/Sexuality: Reading Theories and Practices. Eds. Judith Still and Michael Worton. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1993. 207-17. Print.
- McLeod, John. "Race, empire and The Swimming-Pool Library." Alan Hollinghurst: Writing Under the Influence. Eds. Michèle Meldelssohn and Denis Flanery. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2016. 60-78. Print.
- Of Privilege, Position, and Agent Provocateurs: Exposing Open Secrets, Patriarchal and Postcolonial Power Structures, and the Workings of Homosocial Complicity in The Swimming-Pool Library
- Presentation Group: Sena Harms, Lea Harter, Stefan Gottschalk, Rebecca Stürzebecher
Session 14, February 01: RPO Session
Guidelines for finding your RPO topic:
Your RPO topic needs to be related to at least one of the primary texts
March 15: Term Paper Due
Please upload your paper to the folder "Ausarbeitungen und Hausarbeiten" on our Stud.IP page and send a printed copy to the address below.
Bitte stellen Sie Ihre Prüfungsleistung in den Ordner "Ausarbeitungen und Hausarbeiten" auf unserer Stud.IP-Seite ein und senden Sie eine gedruckte Fassung an die untenstehende Adresse.
Dr. Christian Lassen
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Fakultät III: Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften
Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg
Ammerländer Heerstraße 114-118