Parody and the Intertextuality of History
LINDA HUTCHEON Il y a plus affaire à interpreter les interpretations qu'a interpreter les choses, et plus de livres sur les livres que sur autre sujet: nous ne faisons que nous entregloser. -Montaigne
The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full-stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. -Foucault
What we tend to call postmodernism in literature today is usually characterized by intense self-reflexivity and overtly parodic intertextuality. In fiction this means that it is usually metafiction that is equated with the postmodern. Given the scarcity of precise definitions of this problematic period designation, such an equation is often accepted without question. What I would like to argue is that, in the interests of precision and consistency, we must add something else to this definition: an equally self-conscious dimension of history. My model here is postmodern architecture, that resolutely parodic recalling of the history of architectural forms and functions. The theme of the 1980 Venice Biennale, which introduced postmodernism to the architectural world, was "The Presence of the Past." The term postmodernism, when used in fiction, should, by analogy, best be reserved to describe fiction that is at once metafictional and historical in its echoes of the texts and contexts of the past. In order to distinguish this paradoxical beast from traditional historical fiction, I would like to label it "historiographic metafiction." The category of novel I am thinking of includes One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ragtime, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and The Name of the Rose. All of these are popular and familiar novels whose metafictional self-reflexivity (and intertextuality) renders their implicit claims to historical veracity somewhat problematic, to say the least. 3
In the wake of recent assaults by literary and philosophical theory on modernist formalist closure, postmodern American fiction, in particular, has sought to open itself up to history, to what Edward Said (The World) calls the "world." But it seems to have found that it can no longer do so in any innocent way: the certainty of direct reference of the historical novel or even the nonfictional novel is gone. So is the certainty of self-reference implied in the Borgesian claim that both literature and the world are equally fictive realities. The postmodern relationship between fiction and history is an even more complex one of interaction and mutual implication. Historiographic metafiction works to situate itself within historical discourse without surrendering its autonomy as fiction. And it is a kind of seriously ironic parody that effects both aims: the intertexts of history and fiction take on parallel (though not equal) status in the parodic reworking of the textual past of both the "world" and literature. The textual incorporation of these intertextual past(s) as a constitutive structural element of postmodernist fiction functions as a formal marking of historicity-both literary and "worldly." At first glance it would appear that it is only its constant ironic signaling of difference at the very heart of similarity that distinguishes postmodern parody from medieval and Renaissance imitation (see Greene 17). For Dante, as for E. L. Doctorow, the texts of literature and those of history are equally fair game. Nevertheless, a distinction should be made: "Traditionally, stories were stolen, as Chaucer stole his; or they were felt to be the common property of a culture or community ... These notable happenings, imagined or real, lay outside language the way history itself is supposed to, in a condition of pure occurrence" (Gass 147). Today, there is a return to the idea of a common...