Document Type : Original Article


University of Kashan


Introduction: despite the popularity of realistic historical novel in the nineteenth century, especially in works by Sir Walter Scott, as the prime genre for the representation of bourgeois class and its value system, it is the postmodern version which has surpassed its ancestor and put this literary genre once more back into popularity. However, this return is not as innocent as that of an offspring to his predecessors. It involves a harsh critique of the past and the disclosure of “history” as mere construct, despite its “totalizing” claim.
Background of Study: Alongside Lyotard’s seminal work, The Condition of Postmodernism and Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism, as two major critical works deployed in this study, the article considers Sublime Desire by Elias as well. It also utilizes A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Guattari to elaborate on the notion of mosaic and assemblage. Furthermore, it has used Barton Thurber’s article, “Scott and the Sublime,” to discuss the relation between the historical novels and the notion of sublime.
Methodology and Argument: through the perspective of left thinkers such as Hutcheon, Lyotard, and Deleuze, the writer tries to discuss how the American historical novel, which once established itself as a primary literary genre to undertake the mission of history making in the United States, has recently been used to unsettle the glamorous history by paying tribute to the voices gone silent through the white’s oppression and violence. Tuned into the liberal humanism, the historical novel, in fact, denies American nation its heterogenic nature to preserve the binary of “us” versus “them” intact while trying to keep its democratic face. However, with the arrival of postmodernism and the challenges posed to “grand narratives,” history proved the most problematic narratives whose critique redefined the way the world was once interpreted. Questioning the univocality, teleology, and linearity imposed on history, postmodernism revealed the heteroglossic, multilayered, circular nature of history which have been overshadowed by the liberal humanistic discourse. Such features put history in close relation with the concept of romance and fantastic and gave rise to a literary genre called historical romance. Set along with romance, the official history was, thus, reduced to a narrative among other ones and the hierarchical outlook was collapsed with the emergence of other narratives competing for the same attention and worth. The result was the replacement of the notion of history with “histories” and a rewriting of the past and what had been the established truth of a nation’s history. This act per se led to the emergence of meta-historical novels which focus on the discursive formation of the official history and the uncertainty surrounding the reality of the past which resemble the notion of sublime.
 Conclusion: The meta-historical romance or the postmodern version of the conventional historical novel is, in fact, a counter part to once realistic, linear, teleological, and mono-vocal works of the nineteenth century. In other words, this new version goes in tandem with the postmodern notions of fragmentation, mosaic, assemblage, non-linearity, and multi-perspectivism which deny an established, universal, and totalized version of reality and pave the way for the oppressed and stifled voices which were subject to the hierarchies of liberal humanism. In that way, these kinds of novels try to approach the history again and redefine the already-established, oppressive narratives. Since this redefinition turns the established history into a “construct,” one cannot grasp the reality of history any more, as one cannot comprehend the notion of sublime. It is out there, but out of touch. This fact welcomes heterogeneity and lets go of a hierarchical social structure for a horizontal one. 


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