Other Stories: Experimental Forms of Contemporary Historying at the Crossroads Between Facts and Fictions

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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.

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