Allegorical Realism and Contemporary Literature of the Past in Nigeria, Australia and New Zealand
Author: Hamish Dalley
Category: Historical fiction, Australian
The historical novel is one of the most prominent modes of contemporary writing in the former British Empire, yet the genre's postcolonial variant has not been the subject of critical analysis in its own right. This neglect can be explained by the dominance of a "resistance paradigm" in postcolonial studies, which tends to equate realism with naive mimesis and thus treats the historical novel as either a vehicle for imperialist ideology or a site of discursive conflict over the meaning of the past. As a result, the genre's epistemological and aesthetic complexities have been marginalised. This thesis responds to this neglect by critically analysing examples of the historical novel published since 2000 in Nigeria, Australia, and New Zealand. Historicised close analysis reveals that notwithstanding the anti-mimetic presumptions of much contemporary postcolonial criticism, and despite differences arising from contextual particularities, these texts are shaped by a common "realist impulse" that frames their narratives as defensible interpretations of the past. This ethical obligation to evidence-based interpretation has formal and epistemological consequences that manifest in an aesthetic framework I call allegorical realism. This term names a mode of representation in which fictional elements oscillate between ontological and conceptual registers in ways that simultaneously produce empathetically-unsettling relations to imagined individuals and interpretations of macro-historical change. This combination of affect and abstraction defines the genre as one based neither around assumptions about the transparency of language, nor overly pessimistic views that knowledge of the past is unachievable. I show that focusing analysis on allegorical realism allows critical attention to move away from its exclusive concern with textual resistance and instead explore how the genre is inflected by the various narratives it mediates and the specificities of postcolonial contexts. This research identifies three main variants of the contemporary postcolonial historical novel, each characterised by a different modulation of allegorical realism. Settler allegory comprises texts like Kate Grenville's The Secret River (2005) and Fiona Kidman's The Captive Wife (2006), in which colonists' alienation from occupied territory is reflected formally in the undercutting of allegorical procedures that align imaginary characters with their settings. Transnational historical novels, by contrast, stretch the spatio-temporal coordinates of allegorical realism to encompass processes taking place in global settings. This generates aesthetic effects that link apparently dissimilar novels like Witi Ihimaera's The Trowenna Sea (2009) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun (2006). Finally, melancholy realism describes texts like Chris Abani's Song for Night (2007) and Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish (2001)-texts which disrupt the boundaries between past and present to unsettle postcolonial complacency. Tracing allegorical realism across these modes reveals how postcolonial concerns continue to recreate the genre, and how the oscillation of the allegorical signifier can challenge dominant accounts of historical change. The genre provides a significant archive for exploring how postcolonial literature is characterised by disjunctive temporalities irreducible to dominant narratives of modernity, while nonetheless being shaped by processes that link the globalised world.
This bold and ambitious volume argues that postcolonial historical fiction offers readers valuable resources for thinking about history and the relationship between past and present. It shows how the genre's treatment of colonialism illustrates continuities between the colonial era and our own and how the genre distils from our colonial pasts the evanescent, utopian intimations of a properly postcolonial future. Critique and Utopia in Postcolonial Historical Fiction arrives at these insights by juxtaposing novels from the Atlantic world with books from the Indian subcontinent. Attending to the links across these regions, the volume develops luminous readings of novels by Patrick Chamoiseau, J. G. Farrell, Amitav Ghosh, Marlon James, Hari Kunzru, Toni Morrison, Marlene van Niekerk, Arundhati Roy, Kamila Shamsie, and Barry Unsworth. It shows how these works not only transform our understanding of the colonial past and the futures that might issue from it, but also contribute to pressing debates in postcolonial theory—debates about the politics of literary forms, the links between cycles of capital accumulation and the emergence of new genres, the meaning of 'working through' traumas in the postcolonial context, the relationship between colonial and panoptical power, the continued salience of hybridity and mimicry for the study of colonialism, and the tension between national liberation struggles and transnational forms of solidarity. Beautifully written and meticulously theorized, Critique and Utopia in Postcolonial Historical Fiction will be of interest to students of world literature, Marxist critics, postcolonial theorists, and thinkers of the utopian.
Realism, Allegory, and the Representation of Contested Pasts
Author: H. Dalley
Category: Literary Criticism
The Postcolonial Historical Novel is the first systematic work to examine how the historical novel has been transformed by its appropriation in postcolonial writing. It proposes new ways to understand literary realism, and explores how the relationship between history and fiction plays out in contemporary African and Australasian writing.
Current scholarship on Latin American historical fiction has failed to take feminism and postcolonialism into account. This study uses these important contemporary discourses as a starting point for a new definition of the Latin American historical novel that includes national identity, magical realism, historical intertextuality, and symbolism.
The historical novel is an enduringly popular genre that raises crucial questions about key literary concepts, fact and fiction, identity, history, reading, and writing. In this comprehensive, focused guide, Jerome de Groot offers an accessible introduction to the genre and critical debates that surround it, including: the development of the historical novel from early eighteenth-century works through to postmodern and contemporary historical fiction different genres, such as sensational or ‘low’ fiction, crime novels, literary works, counterfactual writing and related issues of audience, value, and authenticity the many functions of historical fiction, particularly the challenges it poses to accepted histories and postmodern questioning of ‘grand narratives’ the relationship of the historical novel to the wider cultural sphere with reference to historical theory, the internet, television, and film key theoretical concepts such as the authentic fallacy, postcolonialism, Marxism, queer and feminist reading. Drawing on a wide range of examples from across the centuries and around the globe The Historical Novel is essential reading for students exploring the interface of history and fiction.
"This book is concerned with the revolutionary history of the non-Western world and its centuries-long struggle to overthrow Western imperialism: from slow beginnings in the eighteenth century, the last half of the twentieth century witnessed more than a quarter of the world's population win their freedom. It was written before the momentous political events of the twenty-first century: published two months before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and ten years before the Arab revolutions that erupted across the Arab world in 2011. It had been originally commissioned as an introduction to postcolonialism at a time when 'postcolonial theory' formed an innovative body of thinking that was making waves beyond its own disciplinary location. That interest was the mark of a new phase within many Western societies in which immigrants from the global South had begun to emerge as influential cultural voices challenging the basis of the manner in which European and North American societies represented themselves and their own histories. The late Edward Said and Stuart Hall both symbolized the ways in which intellectuals who had been born in former colonies became spokespersons for a popular radical re-evaluation of contemporary culture: a profound transformation of society and its values was underway. That revolution involved the consensus of an equality amongst different people and cultures rather than the hierarchy that had been developed since the beginning of the nineteenth century as a central feature of Western imperialism. Postcolonial critique has been so successful"--Provided by publisher.
This study aims at delineating the cultural work of magical realism as a dominant narrative mode in postcolonial British fiction through a detailed analysis of four magical realist novels: Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981), Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel (1989), Ben Okri's The Famished Road (1991), and Syl Cheney-Coker's The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar (1990). The main focus of attention lies on the ways in which the novelists in question have exploited the potentials of magical realism to represent their hybrid cultural and national identities. To provide the necessary historical context for the discussion, the author first traces the development of magical realism from its origins in European Painting to its appropriation into literature by European and Latin American writers and explores the contested definitions of magical realism and the critical questions surrounding them. He then proceeds to analyze the relationship between the paradigmatic turn that took place in postcolonial literatures in the 1980s and the concomitant rise of magical realism as the literary expression of Third World countries.
The Fiction of History sets out a number of themes in the relationship between history and fiction, emphasising the tensions and dilemmas created in this relationship and examining how various writers have dealt with these. In the first part, two chapters discuss the philosophy behind the connection between fiction and history, whether history is fiction, and the distinction between the past and history. Part two goes on to discuss the relationship between history and literature using case studies such as Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens. Part three looks at television and film (as well as other media) through case studies such as the film Welcome to Sarajevo and Soviet and Australian films. Part four considers a particular theme that has prominence in both history and literature, postcolonial studies, focusing on the issues of fictions of nationhood and civilization and the historical novel in postcolonial contexts. Finally, the fifth section comprises two interviews with novelists Penelope Lively and Adam Thorpe and discusses the ways in which their works explore the nature of history itself.
Are the "culture wars" over? When did they begin? What is their relationship to gender struggle and the dynamics of class? In her first full treatment of postcolonial studies, a field that she helped define, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the world's foremost literary theorists, poses these questions from within the postcolonial enclave.
This surprising study draws together the disparate fields of postcolonial theory and book history in a challenging and illuminating way. Robert Fraser proposes that we now look beyond the traditional methods of the Anglo-European bibliographic paradigm, and learn to appreciate instead the diversity of shapes that verbal expression has assumed across different societies. This change of attitude will encourage students and researchers to question developmentally conceived models of communication, and move instead to a re-formulation of just what is meant by a book, an author, a text. Fraser illustrates his combined approach with comparative case studies of print, script and speech cultures in South Asia and Africa, before panning out to examine conflicts and paradoxes arising in parallel contexts. The re-orientation of approach and the freshness of view offered by this volume will foster understanding and creative collaboration between scholars of different outlooks, while offering a radical critique to those identified in its concluding section as purveyors of global literary power.
Australian Fiction as Archival Salvage examines developments in the Australian postcolonial historical novel from 1989 to the present, including seminal experiments in the genre by Kate Grenville, Mudrooroo, Kim Scott, Peter Carey, Rohan Wilson and others.
This book considers how contemporary British children’s books engage with some of the major cultural debates of recent years, and how they resonate with the current preoccupations and tastes of the white mainstream British reading public. A central assumption of this volume is that Britain’s imperial past continues to play a key role in its representations of race, identity, and history. The insistent inclusion of questions relating to colonialism and power structures in recent children’s novels exposes the complexities and contradictions surrounding the fictional treatment of race relations and ethnicity. Postcolonial children’s literature in Britain has been inherently ambivalent since its cautious beginnings: it is both transgressive and authorizing, both undercutting and excluding. Grzegorczyk considers the ways in which children’s fictions have worked with and against particular ideologies of race. The texts analyzed in this collection portray ethnic minorities as complex, hybrid products of colonialism, global migrations, and the ideology of multiculturalism. By examining the ideological content of these novels, Grzegorczyk demonstrates the centrality of the colonial past to contemporary British writing for the young.
This Pivot explores the uses of the Mughal past in the historical fiction of colonial India. Through detailed reconsiderations of canonical works by Rudyard Kipling, Flora Annie Steel and Romesh Chunder Dutt, the author argues for a more complex and integral understanding of the part played by the Mughal imaginary in colonial and early Indian nationalist projections of sovereignty. Evoking the rich historical and transnational contexts of these literary narratives, the study demonstrates the ways in which, at successive moments of crisis and contestation in the later Raj, the British Indian state continued to be troubled by its early and profound investments in models of despotism first located by colonial administrators in the figure of the Mughal emperor. At the heart of these political fictions lay the issue of territoriality and the founding problem of a British claim to sole proprietorship of Indian land – a form of Orientalist exceptionalism that at once underpinned and could never fully be integrated with the colonial rule of law. Alongside its recovery of a wealth of popular and often overlooked colonial historiography, The Return of the Mughal emphasises the relevance of theories of political theology – from Carl Schmitt and Ernst Kantorowicz to Talal Asad and Giorgio Agamben – to our understanding of the fictional and jurisprudential histories of colonialism. This study aims to show just how closely the pageantry and romance of empire in India connects to its early politics of terror and even today continues to inform the figure of the Mughal in the sectarian politics of Hindu Nationalism.
The writing of history in India has been fraught with controversies. From the storm over textbooks in the 1970s, and the furore over the Babri Masjid in the 1990s, to the flaring up of religious sentiments over 'beef-eating' and the Ram Sethu, this book provides a synoptic view of teaching and writing of history in post-colonial India. Michael Gottlob explores historical research and teaching as important components contributing to the development of a national identity and ideas of citizenship in post-colonial India. He shows how the urge to decolonize and recover the self has given rise to several approaches that attempt to 'reclaim' Indian history from its colonial past. The book discusses diverse areas like methodological research and public use of history; cultural identity and diversity; nationalism and communalism; and social movements and deconstructs their far-reaching implications in contemporary India. It also examines the role of women, Dalits, and Adivasis to understand their position in the multicultural reality of India.
This collection of essays is dedicated to examining the recent literary phenomenon of the 'neo-historical' novel, a sub-genre of contemporary historical fiction which critically re-imagines specific periods of history.
A critical examination of post-colonial Indian history-writing. In the years preceding formal Independence from British colonial rule, Indians found themselves responding to the panorama of sin and suffering that constituted the modern present in a variety of imaginative ways. This book is a critical analysis of the uses made of India’s often millennial past by nationalist ideologues who sought a specific solution to India’s predicament on its way to becoming a post-colonial state. From independence to the present, it considers the competing visions of India’s liberation from her apocalyptical present to be found in the thinking of Gandhi, V. D. Savarkar, Nehru and B. R. Ambedkar as well as V. S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie. It examines some of the archetypal elements in historical consciousness that find their echo in often brutal unhistorical ways in everyday life. This book is a valuable resource for researchers interested in South Asian History, Historiography or Theory of History, Cultural Studies, English Literature, Post Colonial Writing and Literary Criticism.