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Possible Worlds of Fiction and History

The Postmodern Stage

Lubomír Doležel

Publication Year: 2010

With Possible Worlds of Fiction and History, Lubomír Doležel reexamines the claim—made first by Roland Barthes and then popularized by Hayden White—that "there is no fundamental distinction between fiction and history." Doležel rejects this assertion and demonstrates how literary and discourse theory can help the historian to restate the difference between fiction and history. He challenges scholars to reassess the postmodern viewpoint by reintroducing the idea of possible worlds. Possible-worlds semantics reveals that possible worlds of fiction and possible worlds of history differ in their origins, cultural functions, and structural and semantic features. Doležel’s book is the first systematic application of this idea to the theory and philosophy of history. Possible Worlds of Fiction and History is the crowning work of one of literary theory’s most engaged thinkers.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. vii-ix | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8505

Hayden White proclaimed that “historical texts are literary artifacts” (1978; see also White 1999, 4), and thus he legitimized the participation of theorists of literature in the debate about the status and aims of historical inquiry. Indeed, they were debating even before 1978, first in Roland Barthes’s well-known 1967 paper. Almost simultaneously, in 1968, Frank Kermode wrote: “It seems that philosophy of history is the business of those who teach novels” (qtd. in Vann 1995, 40)...

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INTRODUCTION: Remarks on Postmodernism

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pp. 1-14 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8506

To date there is no consensus about what postmodernism is or was. The problem might be that it is a phenomenon of vast scope and diversity, with an impact on all forms of culture—architecture, the arts, literature, mass media, lifestyle. For the purposes of this study we need no more than an orientation in this complex and overworked sub-ject...

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CHAPTER I: The Postmodern Challenge

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pp. 15-28 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8507

Countless are the stories [récits] of the world.” Thus starts the classic work of French structuralist narratology, a celebrated study penned by Roland Barthes (1966). Consequently, the scope of the the-ory of récit, now generally called narratology, became indefinitely large. The “narratological imperialism” rolled over long-established boundaries between text types and genres of writing. In particular, it erased the traditional boundary between fictional and historical narrative...

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CHAPTER II: Representation of the Past and Possible Worlds

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pp. 29-44 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8508

The present-day researcher is engaged in a desperate struggle with the information explosion. The struggle is especially taxing in interdisciplinary research, where no one can master all the published literature in all the interconnected fields. As interdisciplinary investiga-tions become more and more necessary, they become more and more difficult. An easy way out of this difficulty is to interpret the problems of other disciplines in terms of one’s own, a practice typical of quite a few postmodern literary critics...

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CHAPTER III: Postmodern Historical Worlds: Simon Schama

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pp. 45-83 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8509

The birth of modern historiography was marked by a shift from the narrative history of the nineteenth-century “classics” to social-science history. This shift is well known and documented (see, e.g., Iggers 1997). Social-science history achieved an unprecedented level of precision and scientific rigor by focusing on social developments, often quantifiable. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie apologizes to his readers: “The Carnival [in Romans] and all the elements involved are the point, the plot of my book. . . .

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CHAPTER IV: Postmodern Historical Fiction

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pp. 84-100 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8510

The immensely popular literary genre of fictional representations of the past includes historical novels and romances, short stories, dramas, epic poems, and ballads, among other forms. The possible worlds of this genre are fictional, and they share the logical, semantic, structural, and pragmatic features of all fictional worlds. They also share with some other fictional worlds the dyadic structure, being composed of two domains that are clearly distinguishable by their different relationships to the actual world of the past (see Doležel 1998, 128–29)...

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CHAPTER V: Counterfactual Narratives of the Past

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pp. 101-126 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8511

We have noticed that some postmodern historical fictions not only deviate from commonly known historical facts but bla-tantly contradict them (IV.2). Now we will discover that the counterfac-tual representation of the past has deeper historical roots and broader motivations than the postmodern fictional experiments indicate...


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pp. 127-149 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8512

Works Cited

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pp. 151-164 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8513


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pp. 165-171 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.8514

E-ISBN-13: 9780801897443
E-ISBN-10: 0801897440
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801894633
Print-ISBN-10: 0801894638

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2010