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Postcolonialism and the Historical Novel: Epistemologies of Contemporary Realism

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The historical novel is one of the most popular and critically significant genres of postcolonial writing, but, to date, almost no systematic scholarship is dedicated to it. This essay proposes theoretical and critical parameters for exploring this
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  ےۜۙ Ө ٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ Ђ ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ ۣۚ ێۣۧۨۗۣ۠ۣۢ۝ٷ۠ۋ۝ۨۙۦٷۦۺ ٲۢۥ۩۝ۦۺ ۜۨۨۤ ҖҖ ۞ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ۧ ғ ۗٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ ғ ۣۦۛ Җ ێۋٲۆۘۘ۝ۨ۝ۣۢٷ۠ ۧۙۦ۪۝ۗۙۧ ۚۣۦ ẳẰ ̀ẬẸậẽẴắẲẰ ẺỀẽẹẬặ Ẻằ ẺẾếẮẺặẺẹẴẬặ ẴếẰẽẬẽỄ ẹẼỀẴẽỄ ٮۡٷ۝۠ ٷ۠ۙۦۨۧ Ө ۠۝ۗ۟ ۜۙۦۙۑ۩ۖۧۗۦ۝ۤۨ۝ۣۢۧ Ө ۠۝ۗ۟ ۜۙۦۙ Ө ۣۡۡۙۦۗ۝ٷ۠ ۦۙۤۦ۝ۢۨۧ Ө ۠۝ۗ۟ ۜۙۦۙےۙۦۡۧ ۣۚ ۩ۧۙ  Ө ۠۝ۗ۟ ۜۙۦۙ ێۣۧۨۗۣ۠ۣۢ۝ٷ۠۝ۧۡ ٷۢۘ ۨۜۙ ٱ۝ۧۨۣۦ۝ۗٷ۠ І ۣ۪ۙ۠ۃ ٮۤ۝ۧۨۙۡۣ۠ۣۛ۝ۙۧۣۚ Ө ۣۢۨۙۡۤۣۦٷۦۺ ېۙٷ۠۝ۧۡ ٱٷۡ۝ۧۜ ө ٷ۠۠ۙۺ ےۜۙ Ө ٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ Ђ ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ ۣۚ ێۣۧۨۗۣ۠ۣۢ۝ٷ۠ ۋ۝ۨۙۦٷۦۺ ٲۢۥ۩۝ۦۺ Җ  ۔ۣ۠۩ۡۙ ڽ Җ  ۑۤۙۗ۝ٷ۠ ٲۧۧ۩ۙ ڼڽ Җ  یٷۦۗۜ ھڼڽۃ ۤۤ Ң ڽ Ғ  ө ۍٲ ڽڼ ғ ڽڼڽ Җ ۤ۠۝ ғ ھڼڽڿ ғ ڿۃ ێ۩ۖ۠۝ۧۜۙۘ ۣۢ۠۝ۢۙ ڽھ ٯۙۖۦ۩ٷۦۺ ھڼڽ ۋ۝ۢ۟ ۨۣ ۨۜ۝ۧ ٷۦۨ۝ۗ۠ۙۃ ۜۨۨۤ ҖҖ ۞ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ۧ ғ ۗٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ ғ ۣۦۛ Җ ٷۖۧۨۦٷۗۨٵۑھڼ Ң ھھڽڽڿڼڼڼڼڿھ ٱۣ۫ ۨۣ ۗ۝ۨۙ ۨۜ۝ۧ ٷۦۨ۝ۗ۠ۙۃ ٱٷۡ۝ۧۜ ө ٷ۠۠ۙۺ ھڼڽۀ ғ  ێۣۧۨۗۣ۠ۣۢ۝ٷ۠۝ۧۡ ٷۢۘ ۨۜۙ ٱ۝ۧۨۣۦ۝ۗٷ۠ І ۣ۪ۙ۠ ٮۤ۝ۧۨۙۡۣ۠ۣۛ۝ۙۧ ۣۚ Ө ۣۢۨۙۡۤۣۦٷۦۺ ېۙٷ۠۝ۧۡ ғ  ےۜۙ Ө ٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ Ђ ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ ۣۚ ێۣۧۨۗۣ۠ۣۢ۝ٷ۠ ۋ۝ۨۙۦٷۦۺ ٲۢۥ۩۝ۦۺۃ ڽۃ ۤۤ Ң ڽ Ғ ۘۣ۝ڽڼ ғ ڽڼڽ Җ ۤ۠۝ ғ ھڼڽڿ ғ ڿ ېۙۥ۩ۙۧۨ ێۙۦۡ۝ۧۧ۝ۣۢۧ ۃ Ө ۠۝ۗ۟ ۜۙۦۙ ө ۣ۫ۢ۠ۣٷۘۙۘ ۚۦۣۡ ۜۨۨۤۃ  ҖҖ ۞ۣ۩ۦۢٷ۠ۧ ғ ۗٷۡۖۦ۝ۘۛۙ ғ ۣۦۛ  Җ ێۋٲ ٲێ ٷۘۘۦۙۧۧۃ ڽۀ ғ ھڼھ ғ ڽۂھ ғ ڽڿہ ۣۢ ڼ یٷۦ ھڼڽۀ  51 Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry,  1(1), pp 51 – 67 March 2014.© Cambridge University Press, 2014 doi:10.1017/pli.2013.3 Postcolonialism and the Historical Novel:Epistemologies of Contemporary Realism Hamish Dalley  Australian National University  The historical novel is one of the most popular and critically signi  fi cant genres of  postcolonial writing, but, to date, almost no systematic scholarship is dedicated to it.This essay proposes theoretical and critical parameters for exploring this genre. It begins with the observation that plausibility is a key principle articulated by many  postcolonial writers and explores how framing novels in these terms, as a kind of realism, requires readers to negotiate heterogeneous structures of reference — and, in particular, to read imaginary characters as abstractions of historical phenomena.The second half of the paper explores the theoretical implications of this ontological heterogeneity, suggesting how the genre ’  s conventions are in  fl  ected by normative patterns of gender, race, and temporality. Overall, I propose that it is possible to read the postcolonial historical novel as a kind of allegory, and I offer the term allegorical realism to describe this paradoxical mixing of conceptual and affective knowledge. Keywords:  Historical novel, postcolonial literature, literary realism, allegory,characterization in  fi ction Postcolonialism and the Historical Novel: Epistemologiesof Contemporary Realism The cliché says that the past is a foreign country, and postcolonial studies hasalways questioned the intentions of those who try to map distant climes. 1 This sus-picion can be seen in the  fi eld ’ s relationship with the historical novel, a genre at oncecentral to the literatures of formerly colonized societies, and yet which lies beyond thebounds of most current postcolonial scholarship. To date, no systematic study of thehistorical novel from a postcolonial perspective has been published, and analyses of individual historical novels have tended not to engage with issues of genre nor totheorize the signi fi cance of generic conventions for texts that blend  fi ction and history.That neglect motivates this essay. I offer the following as a preliminary attempt totrace the contours of this hitherto unexplored region of postcolonial literature. I draw  Hamish Dalley is a learning adviser at the Australian National University. In May 2013 he was awarded aPhD in English from the ANU for research on the postcolonial historical novel. His work has beenpublished in international journals including   Research in African Literatures  and  The Journal of Post-colonial Writing  . 1 The cliché srcinates from L. P. Hartley  ’ s  The Go-Between  (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953): 9.  upon an emergent body of scholarship that has sought to reexamine the signi fi cance of realism and argue that the  fi eld has been overcommitted to antirealist principles andpoststructuralist reading practices. I suggest that by resisting this tendency, we canrecognize that plausibility is a core value of much postcolonial literary productionand that this principle has wide-reaching implications for how historical novels arewritten and read in postcolonial contexts. The historical novel can be seen, I suggest,as a  “ new topography  ”  for postcolonial studies — a region that has always been there,populated by those happily uninterested in our existence, but which we may now  venture to explore.This paper is divided into three sections. First, I examine the centrality of plausibility and verisimilitude to the genre and argue that postcolonial historical novels ask to beread as serious interpretations of the actual past. Second, I trace how this plausibility operates through aesthetics of   “ representativeness, ”  a principle that positions thepostcolonial historical novel as a realist genre, but with speci fi c in fl ections generated by itspostcoloniality. Finally, I suggest how this realism can be understood as a kind of allegory and propose a number of interpretive implications that arise when we read postcolonialhistorical novels in these terms. Above all, I argue that the postcolonial historical novel is aformally and thematically diverse genre centred on a de fi ning epistemological premise:that  “ fi ction is a way of knowing  ”  the past. 2 Tracing the implications of this premise,I show, opens new vistas for postcolonial scholarship to explore. Historical Interpretation and Postcolonial Criticism: Accounting for Plausibility To date, the postcolonial scholarship that has engaged with literary realism haslargely done so suspiciously. Novelists ’  attempts to portray the past  “ as it actually was ” have been dismissed as theoretically naïve at best and as an expression of imperialisticattitudes at worst. As a result, postcolonial criticism has tended to downplay therealism of historical novels and to foreground instead their debts to postmoderntropes or other markers of a supposedly antimimetic ethos. Such attitudes can be seenin the questions that usually shape analyses of, for example, colonial settlementnarratives: criticism focuses on whether such works  “ grant legitimacy to their post-colonial settler audience ”  or undermine claims to colonized space. 3 In this way, issuesof discursive con fl ict and ownership of the means of interpretation are foregroundedas the primary subject for critical re fl ection — a focus re fl ected by the exemplary title of a monograph on the subject:  Claiming History  . 4 Critics have not attempted to theorizehow questions of interpretive plausibility, or the  “ truth ”  of historical novels, mightaffect how they are written and read. As a result, the epistemological premises of muchof this literature are unexplored. 2 Avrom Fleishman,  The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf   (Baltimore: JohnsHopkins Press, 1971): x. 3 Lisa Fletcher and Elizabeth Mead,  “ Inheriting the Past: Peter Corris ’ s  The Journal of Fletcher Christian and Peter Carey  ’ s  True History of the Kelly Gang  , ”  The Journal of Commonwealth Literature  45.2 (2010):190. See also, for example, Carolyn Masel,  “ Late Landings: Re fl ections on Belatedness in Australian andCanadian Literatures, ”  in  Recasting the World: Writing after Colonialism , ed. Jonathan White (Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Philip Steer,  “ History (Never) Repeats: Pakeha Identity, Novelsand the New Zealand Wars, ”  Journal of New Zealand Literature , 25 (2007). 4 Eleni Coundouriotis,  Claiming History: Colonialism, Ethnography and the Novel   (New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1999).52  HAMISH DALLEY  I suggest that this neglect is a legacy of the poststructuralist reading practices thatframed postcolonialism ’ s formation as a discipline. In his in fl uential 1984 essay  “ Representation and the Postcolonial Text, ”  Homi Bhabha criticized interpretivemodels that treat literature as a window to  “ the essentially unmediated nature of reality. ” 5 Bhabha declared  “ historicism and realism ”  to be  “ necessary   fi ctions thattragically believed too much in their necessity and too little in their own  fi ctionality, ” and he castigated as imperialistic discourses that — like realism, supposedly  —“ deny their own material and historical construction. ” 6 Bhabha ’ s argument became the basisfor a critical preference for self-conscious, parodic, and antimimetic writing, whichwas presumed to be intrinsically radical insofar as it foreswore attempts to depict the “ actual ”  past. Such attitudes can be seen in work on Australian historical  fi ction, forexample, which reads directly from aesthetics to politics, asserting that  “ representations of history which operate in terms of   fi xity and closure  are bound   to perpetuate familiarcolonial stereotypes, ”  while an  “ open and  fl uid portrayal of history [...] permits fi ctional accounts to subvert and break up such petri fi ed notions. ” 7 In this passagewe can see the slippage in which postmodern form is treated as coextensive withpostcolonial literature. As Neil Lazarus points out, the result is to create a canon inwhich aesthetically experimental writers — above all Salman Rushdie — receive moresubstantive analysis and less critical suspicion than realists. 8 Indeed, the assumptionthat realism and postcolonialism are antithetical is re fl ected in some introductory textbooks to the  fi eld, in which realism is either absent or appears only as a negativeterm, a foil against which other modes can be de fi ned. 9 Such criticism privileges thecapacity of antimimetic form to split the  “ consensual continuity  ”  of signs, making thequestion of interpretive plausibility moot. 10 The problem with such readings is that they ignore the ethical commitments tohistorical plausibility routinely expressed by many postcolonial novelists. For example,even Rushdie himself asserts his desire that his novels be read as thoughtful, informedanalyses of the actual past and not simply as acts of discursive contestation orlinguistic experimentation. In his recent memoir, he suggests that  The Satanic Verses ,notwithstanding its magical realist dimensions, ought to be read in dialogue witharchival evidence of the events it depicts. He challenges those who rejected hisargument that the birth of Islam was a historical process shaped by political expediency and compromise, asking if they knew  [T]hat after the Prophet died there was, for some considerable time,  no canonical text?  The Umayyad inscriptions from the Dome of the Rock were at odds with what was now  5 Homi K. Bhabha,  “ Representation and the Colonial Text: A Critical Exploration of Some Forms of Mimeticism, ”  in  The Theory of Reading  , ed. Frank Gloversmith (Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester PressLtd., 1984): 94. 6 Ibid., 96 – 97. 7 Segrun Meinig,  Witnessing the Past: History and Post-Colonialism in Australian Historical Novels (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 2004): 11. Emphasis added. For an analogous argument, see JonathanLamb,  “ The Problems of Originality; or, Beware of Pakeha Baring Guilts, ”  Landfall   4 (1986): 394 – 395. 8 Neil Lazarus,  The Postcolonial Unconscious  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 22 – 23. 9 See Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Grif  fi ths and Helen Tif  fi n,  Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts  (London:Routledge, 2007). 10 Homi K. Bhabha,  The Location of Culture  (London: Routledge, 1994): 226. POSTCOLONIALISM AND THE HISTORICAL NOVEL  53  insisted upon as holy writ [...] The very walls of one of Islam ’ s most sacred shrinesproclaimed that human fallibility had been present at the birth of the Book. 11 Such an appeal to archival evidence is commonplace for postcolonial historical novelists,whether they work in experimental modes or not. In Australia, for example, KateGrenville — author of   The Secret River   (2005), a novel about colonial genocide — hasrepeatedly af  fi rmed her desire to produce  “ a tale that drew its power fromthe fact that it was real. ” 12 Like Rushdie, Grenville ’ s attitude combines ethical andepistemological registers, as she avows that  “ I didn ’ t want people unsympathetic tothe idea of frontier violence to be able to say: it ’ s just a novel, she made it up, none of this really happened. ” 13 Similar assertions appear frequently in the authors ’  prefacesor  “ notes on the text ”  customarily appended to historical novels. They establish para-textual frames that make plausibility and potential veri fi ability key criteria against whichthe representation asks to be read. 14 Chinua Achebe is thus not the only postcolonialnovelist for whom  fi ction is an  “ applied art, ”  intended to educate readers about the truthof their national histories. 15 Given this disjunction between scholarship and texts, I argue that postcolonialcriticism needs to become more attuned to the epistemological parameters shaping thecontemporary writing it describes. In this I align myself with an emerging trend inwhich critics have argued that the  fi eld ’ s suspicion toward literary realism ought to bereconsidered. Most signi fi cantly, Lazarus ’ s  The Postcolonial Unconscious  (2011)highlights how scholars have constructed a  selective tradition  of antimimetic texts,which has been mistaken  “ for the only game in town. ” 16 I agree with Lazarus when heargues that  “ we lose something indispensable when we suspend inquiry  ”  into texts ’ plausibility and  “ bracket as undecidable the question of [...]  epistemological  adequacy. ” 17 Recently, Eli Park Sorensen has proposed how such questions could beapproached. His work draws on Georg Lukács, proposing that we conceptualizerealism as an ethos underpinning a variety of literary forms — both conventional andexperimental — and which makes narrative  “ a  fi nite or strict compositional structure[...] which  in advance  has implied or pre-interpreted a particular causal-determining relationship between events. ” 18 Sorensen ’ s approach suggests how aesthetics might bein fl uenced by epistemology, allowing us to explore how formal structures shape theinterpretation of historical processes and how archival evidence enters into anintertextual dialogue with  fi ctional events. Other critics have advanced similar claims, 11 Salman Rushdie,  Joseph Anton  (New York: Random House, 2012): 213. 12 Kate Grenville,  Searching for the Secret River   (Melbourne: Text, 2006): 146. 13 Quoted by Louise Maral,  “ Warts and All: On Writing   the Secret River  ”  (2006), http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid = 1240. 14 See, for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  Half of a Yellow Sun  (London: Harper Perennial,2006); Margaret Atwood,  “ In Search of   Alias Grace:  On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction, ”  The American Historical Review   103.5 (1998): 1503 – 1516; Witi Ihimaera,  The Trowenna Sea  (Auckland:Penguin, 2009);  The Parihaka Woman  (Auckland: Vintage, 2011). 15 Chinua Achebe,  “ The Novelist as Teacher, ”  in  Morning yet on Creation Day   (London: Heinemann,1975): 145. 16 Lazarus,  The Postcolonial Unconscious , 32, 34. Original emphasis. 17 Ibid., 125. 18 Eli Park Sorensen,  Postcolonial Studies and the Literary: Theory, Interpretation and the Novel  (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010): 64. Original emphasis.54  HAMISH DALLEY
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