Ethical Dimensions in British Historiographic Metafiction
Ethical Dimensions in British Historiographic in Metafiction: Julian Barnes, Graham Swift, Penelope Lively
ISBN 978-3-88476-486-2, ISBN 3-88476-486-1, 204 S., kt., € 20,50 (2001)
(ELCH - Studies in English Literary and Cultural History, Bd. 2)
This study examines the intricate interrelations between ethics and the postmodern critique of history in three British novels of the 1980s: Graham Swift's Waterland (1983), Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger (1987), and Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters (1989). All three novels have been classified as paradigmatic examples of historiographic metafiction, arguably the most important subgenre of postmodern historical fiction. Whereas many critics have suggested that only the moderate type of postmodern historical fiction, i.e. revisionist historical fiction, has an ethical dimension and that, in contrast, the radical destabilization of historical representation in historiographic metafiction is indifferent, even inimical, to ethics, this study contends that the self-reflexive examination of history and historiography in all three narratives is intricately linked with moral-ethical concerns. Taking into consideration the recent "ethical turn" within literary studies and drawing on contemporary moral philosophy as well as French ethical theory of the 20th century (Lyotard, Levinas), it is argued that the novels by Swift, Lively, and Barnes do not endorse a relativistic "anything goes" approach. Rather than being hostile to ethics, all three narratives are intimately concerned with ethical issues, albeit in a fashion that differs quite substantially from what traditional ethical criticism has deemed to be ethical in and about fiction.