Thursday, May 11, 2023

Fiction and History

Though both recount stories, the two great modes of narrative - fiction and history - can never be entirely synthesized. In fact, the concordance and discordance between them becomes more recognizable when each mode is put in dialogue with the other. Unlike novelists, on the one hand, historians in their stories do aim to re-narrate the past and are therefore subject to what once was. Plowing through documents, establishing traces – marks or signs of passing through –, and reconstructing personal encounters, all contribute to highlighting that a historian’s task cannot be reduced to merely a literary achievement. Unlike historians, on the other hand, novelists in their stories have few limits or restrictions. They’re free to be more wide-ranging and imaginative in their work, while crafting a literary adventure of a plot and characters that may be as sublimely real or unreal as they please. Where does that leave us in the monumental debate concerning fiction and history? I’d wager that fiction and history are related, since both modes are telling stories that represent something, but they are also distinct because they have different subject matter, purposes, and goals.