HUNGARIAN STUDIES 15. No. 2. Nemzetközi Magyar Filológiai Társaság. Akadémiai Kiadó Budapest [2001]

Sándor Hites: Reluctant Supplements: Historical Novel, Historiography, and Historiographical Metafiction

204 SÁNDOR HITES I. Mutuality and Rivalry In order to avoid thematizing the origins of the ancient debate over the primacy between history and literature that most probably started as early as Aristotle's Poetics, we reduce our starting point to the thesis that until the recent period, the relationship between history and literature had been seen as one of these two ways of supplementation: history as a background of literary interpretation or literature as that of historical knowledge. Since supplementation always changes the field to which a supplement is added, while the added supplement is changing as well, our concern is to develop from these synechdochical oppositions a chiasmatic struc­ture between the two fields. From the early seventies of the twentieth century it had become less attractive to depict history by separating an independent field of historical knowledge from that of historical writing. The textual or figurai dimension of historical narratives, as it was opened up by (among others) Hayden White, has proved to be an una­voidable element in historical discourses. Alterations in the field of the theory of history imply rearrangements in the way we read historiography, and both changes have an influence on the perspective from which we might interpret the genre of the historical novel. The insight that historical studies cannot be separated from the aspect of historical writing, that rhetorical and fictional patterns prefigure the historical field in which the historian develops her/his argument, and that the will of persuasion determines the historian's rhetorical devices, offers an opportunity to place the question of the historical novel in a new light. If the professional historians' works are to be considered, at least according to Hayden White, what they most manifestly are, literary artifacts, then one should not underestimate the rhetorical and poetical achievement of historical fiction either, even if in its case the degree of adequacy to the so called "objective historical reality" is not always sufficient. By the figurative determination they share, history-books and histori­cal novels reveal a certain kind of mutuality and deeply implicate each other. To refer to how they compete over discursive power, one might call them rivals. In a sense they can be treated as different means of gaining control over the interpreta­tion of the past, over the making and remaking of national history, national memory and identity, politics and hopes for the future. The peculiar historical sensitivity that developed during the Romantic Period, in a large part manifested itself through the efforts to create coherent national historical narratives and other means of representing the past in a wide range of culture. These narratives in East-Central Europe consisted not only of strengthen­ing or developing national identity but to legitimate discursive power and political goals. Historical novel played a significant and, as we shall try to show, some­times opposite role in these processes. As a procedure of self-legitimization, dur­ing the nineteenth century professional historians tried to dismiss the literary ver-

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