History as an ocean


‘But there is a huge difference between writing a historical novel and writing history. If I may put it like this: history is like a river, and the historian is writing about the ways the river flows and the currents and crosscurrents in the river. But, within this river, there are also fish, and […] I am interested in the fish. The  novelist’s  approach  to  the  past,  through the eyes of characters, is substantially different from the approach of the historian’. This quotation might seem to have been taken from some pre-narrative-turn  text  whose  author  appears  to  profess the conviction that the scientific status of history and the fictional character of literature is what makes these two modes of writing about the past essentially different. In fact, these words come from Amitav Ghosh, a contemporary historian, social anthropologist, historical fiction writer who, more than forty years after the Linguistic Turn, seems to advocate a new version of ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen’ and literature opposition. Starting with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s arguments in favor of  ‘regional  and  global  configurations  in  modern  history’, I would like to use them to criticize Ghosh’s idea of history as a river and put forward a thesis that history is like an ocean and if we understand it as such, then the boundary between writing a historical novel and history might be considered conventional and possible to be blurred. In order to justify this thesis I intend to provide a series of arguments supported mainly by Hayden White’s philosophy of history presented in Metahistory and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s theory of understanding  from  Truth  and  Method.  In  conclusion,  I  point to  idiosyncrasies  of  the  ocean-like  perspective  on  history as a construct alternative to this proposed by Amitav Ghosh. 

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Published : 2014-05-15

BembenA. (2014). History as an ocean. Review of International American Studies, 7(1). Retrieved from https://journals.us.edu.pl/index.php/RIAS/article/view/4035

Alicja Bemben  tamburynek@o2.pl
Department of American and Canadian Studies, Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia  Poland

Alicja Bemben is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures at the University of Silesia. Her research interests include philosophy of history, historiography and writings work of Robert Graves. She is a member
of the Robert Graves Society, and participated, among others, in [Re]visions of  History  in  Language  and  Fiction, Robert  Graves  and  Modernism, and TimeLing conferences.

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