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.
Ainsworth, P. 2003 ‘Contemporary and “Eyewitness” History’, in D. M. Deliyannis (ed) Historiography in the Middle Ages. Leiden, London: Brill, 249-276.
Aristotle. 2005. Metaphysics. W. D. Ross (trans). Adelaide: University of Adelaide. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/aristotle/metaphysics/book4.html
Aristotle. 1992. The Poetics of Aristotle. H. Butcher (trans). London: Macmillan.
Bates, D. 2001. ‘Idols and Insight: An Enlightenment Topography of Knowledge. Enlightenment Pathologies’, in Duncan and D. Henkin (eds) Representations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1-23.
Breisach, E. 1994. Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Burrow, J. 2008. A History of Histories. New York: Random House.
Chakrabarty, D. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Cicero. 2009. De Oratore. A. J. Woodman (trans). In L. Pitcher (ed) Writing Ancient History: An Introduction to Classical Historiography. London: I. B. Tauris, 15-16.
Deliyannis, D. M. 2003. ‘Introduction’, in D. M. Deliyannis (ed) Historiography in the Middle Ages. Leiden, London: Brill, 1-16.
Fresnoy, N. L. du. 1730. A new method of studying history, geography, & chronology. With a catalogue of the chief historians of all nations, the best edition of their works, & characters of them. Written originally in French by M. Languet du Fresnoy, Librarian to Prince Eugene. And now made English, with variety of improvements & corrections. To which is added, a dissertation by Count Scipio Maffei of Verona, concerning the use of inscriptions & medals, by way of parallel. In two volumes. By Richard Rawlinson, L. L. D. and F. R. S. London: Printed for Cha. Davis in Pater-noster-Row. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073728019;view=1up;seq=327
Gadamer, H. G. 2004. Truth and Method. J. Weinsheimer and D. G. Marshall (trans). London, New York: Continuum.
Gossman, L. 1990. Between History and Literature. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.
Grabski, A. F. 2003 Dzieje histo.riografii. Poznań:
Hegel, G. W. F. 1892. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. E. S. Haldane, K. Paul, Trench (trans). London: Trübner & Co.
Herodotus. 2006. The Histories. N. Luraghi (trans). In ‘Meta-historiē: Method and genre in the Histories’, in C. Dewald and J. Marincola (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 76-92.
Isidore of Seville. 2006. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, O. Berghof and M. Hall (trans). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kelley, D. R. 1991. Versions of History: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Kooria, M. 2012. ‘Between the Walls of Archives and Horizons of Imagination: An Interview with Amitav Ghosh’, Itinerario 36. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8845430&fulltextType=CR&fileId=S0165115313000028
Marincola, J. 2007. ‘Speeches in Classical Historiography’, in J. Marincola (ed) A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography, Volume I, series of Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, Oxford and Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, 118-132.
Munslow, A. 2006 Deconstructing History. London: Taylor and Francis.
Schiller, F. 2006 ‘What Is, and to What End Do We Study, Universal History?’, in C. Stephan and R. Trout (eds and trans) Friedrich Schiller Poet of Freedom Volume II. Washington, DC: Schiller Institute. http://www.schillerinstitute.org/transl/Schiller_essays/universal_history.html
White, H. 1975 Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
White, H. 1978 ‘Fictions of Factual Representation’, H. White (ed) Tropics of Discourse. Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 121-135.
Woolf, D. R. 2005 ‘From Hystories to the Historical: Five Transitions in Thinking about the Past, 1500–1700’, in Huntington Library Quarterly 68 (1-2): 33-70.
The Copyright Holder of the submitted text is the Author. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the RIAS websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in RIAS.