The process of questioning the authority of academic history—in the form in which it emerged at the turn of the 19th century—began in the 1970s, when Hayden White pointed out the rhetorical dimension of historical discourse. His British colleague Alun Munslow went a step further and argued that the ontological statuses of the past and history are so different that historical discourse cannot by any means be treated as representation of the past. As we have no access to that which happened, both historians and artists can only present the past in accordance with their views and opinions, the available rhetorical conventions, and means of expression.
The article revisits two examples of experimental history which Munslow mentioned in his The Future of History (2010): Robert A. Rosenstone’s Mirror in the Shrine (1988) and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s In 1926 (1997). It allows reassessing their literary strategies in the context of a new wave of works written by historians and novelists who go beyond the fictional/factual dichotomy. The article focuses on Polish counterfactual writers of the last two decades, such as Wojciech Orliński, Jacek Dukaj, and Aleksander Głowacki. Their novels corroborate the main argument of the article about a turn which has been taking place in recent experimental historying: the loss of previous interest in formal innovations influenced by modernist avant-garde fiction. Instead, it concentrates on demonstrating the contingency of history to strategically extend the unknowability of the future or the past(s) and, as a result, change historying into speculative thinking.
Contagion is more than an epidemiological fact. The medical usage of the term is no more and no less metaphorical than in the entire history of explanations of how beliefs circulate in social interactions. The circulation of such communicable diseases and the circulation of ideas are both material and experiential. Diseases and ideas expose the power and danger of bodies in contact, as well as the fragility and tenacity of social bonds. In the case of the theatre, various tropes of contagion are to be found in both the fictional world on the stage (at least since Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex) and in many theories defining the rules of interaction between theatre audiences, fictitious characters and/or performers. In consequence, the historically changing concept of contagion has in many respects influenced how mimesis was conceived and understood. The main goal of my article is to demonstrate how the concept of contagion has changed over the last few decades and how it may influence our understanding of the idea of mimesis and participation in performative arts. This will be achieved in two steps. Firstly, I will compare the concept of contagion as the outbreak narrative that had influenced, among others, Antonin Artaud’s The Theater and the Plague with the more recent and dynamic concept of epidemic structured around the tipping point. Secondly, I will look for performative art forms with similar structure of audience responses, analyzing Mariano Pensotti’s project Sometimes I Think, I Can See You (2010), in order to demonstrate new forms of performativity and (re)presentation.