Que sait la littérature?

Nancy Ali


This paper deals with the new conventions of representing reality in both literary and historical texts. Alongside memory, history, and fiction are the two other domains from which we derive knowledge of our past. We have chosen to compare the literary narrative with the historical one. Where is the place of fiction alongside this often totalizing and totalitarian pillar of knowledge? Furthermore, we explore the way in which fiction and history interact in the contemporary novel. Contemporary novels often incorporate extra-literary discourses in their texts in an attempt to show that any discourse on the real is always a work of fiction because it is discursively constructed. By incorporating such fragments of history within their fictive world, these contemporary novels point our attention to the similarities between the literary and historical texts, both of which resort to narrative techniques in order to represent the past and give meaning to it. The insistence on the notion of narrativity in historiographic research over the last decades has brought into question the legitimacy of the once incontestable historical archives. By stressing the inevitable subjectivity of the once so-called objective historical documents, contemporary historians have demonstrated the way in which history uses narrative techniques similar to that of fiction to establish order and make sense of the dispersed events of the past. Because narrative form is in itself a way of ordering and “bringing together” the fragmented events and incoherencies of reality, narrative form in itself often violently manipulates this reality with the aim of giving meaning to an often inexplicable reality. Even in the autobiographical text, deemed truthful, or the historical document, deemed objective, we always write the past from the present, that is we predict the past from the prism of the present thanks to what Ricoeur has called the “traces” of the past, namely the archives, testimonies, photographs and other “already written” texts. So, both literary and historical texts attempt to order reality with the aim of arriving at a certain representation of it that expresses an intended signification.



narrativity, mimesis, historical discourse, literary discourse, representation, knowledge, emplotement

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