Counterfactual Histories of Moon Landing

Mateusz Borowski 1
  • 1 Jagiellonian University, , Kraków, Poland


The article is devoted to the analysis of chosen examples of counterfactual narratives which diverge from the typical alternative accounts of history written in the “what if” mode. It focuses on counterfactual representations of space flight and moon landing as crucial historical events of the 20th century. The point of departure for the text is provided by the New Historicist understanding of historical fact and historical event, with particular attention paid to Hayden White’s concept of metahistory. However, to identify the possible functions of the new counterfactuals, I go beyond the binary of past and present which lies at the core of White’s concept. To this end, I employ Jacques Derrida’s concept of artifactuality, which describes the process of the production of facts about current events. I apply this concept to analyse two examples of counterfactual films about space flight: the comedy Moonwalkers (dir. Alain Bardou-Jacquet, 2015) and a mockumentary First on the Moon (dir. Aleksey Fedorchenko, 2005). In these examples, I identify strategies of deconstruction of fact-making which Derrida recommended in his essay. In the concluding part, I introduce the third example of counterfactual narrative, which not so much deconstructs factuality but, rather, counteracts the process of cultural oblivion. In Hidden Figures (2016), Margo Lee Shetterly reconstructed the role that African-American women played in the space race, introducing them into the official historical narrative. In this case, I also compare the book with its cinematic rendition to argue that counterfactuals introduce a new model of thinking of collective relationship with the past.

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