Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction

Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction

by Amy J Elias


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Has twentieth-century political violence destroyed faith in historical knowledge? What happens to historical fiction when history is seen as either a form of Western imperialism or a form of postmodern simulation?

In Sublime Desire, Amy Elias examines our changing relationship to history and how fiction since 1960 reflects that change. She contends that postmodernism is a post-traumatic imagination that is pulled between two desires: the political desire to acknowledge the physical violence of twentieth-century history, and the yearning for an escape from that history into a ravishing realm of historical certainty. Torn between these desires, both historical fiction and historiography after 1960 redefine history as the "sublime," a territory beyond lived experience that is both unknowable and seductive. In the face of a failure of Enlightenment ideals about knowledge and the West's own history of violence, post-World War II history becomes a desire for the "secular sacred" sublime—for awe, certainty, and belief.

Sublime Desire is an eloquent melding of theory and practice. Mixing the canonical with the unexpected, Elias analyzes developments in the historical romance genre from Walter Scott's novels to novels written today. She correlates developments in the historical romance to similar changes in historiography and philosophy. Sublime Desire draws engagingly on more than thirty relevant texts, from Tolstoy's War and Peace to Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, Charles Johnson's Dreamer, and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. But the book also examines theories of postmodern space and time and defines the difference between postmodern and postcolonial historical perspectives. The final chapter draws from trauma theory in Holocaust studies to define how fiction can pose an ethical alternative to aestheticized history while remaining open to pluralism and democratic values. In its range and sophistication, Sublime Desire is a valuable addition to postmodernist studies as well as to studies of the historical romance novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801867330
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 11/23/2001
Series: Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Amy J. Elias is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Table of Contents


Sublime Desire

Preface: Postmodernism, history and the Metahistorical Romance

The Question of Postmodernism

Chapter 1: Sorting Out Connection: The Historical romance in Hyperreality

The Historical Novel, Historiography, and Romance

The Metahistorical Novel, Romance, and Historiography

Chapter 2: The Metahistorical Romance and the Historical Sublime

Chapter 3: The Improbability of the Real: Spatializing History in Metahistorical


Spatiality and Postmodernism

Spatiality and Metahistorical Romance

Paratactic vs. Positivistic History

Simultaneous History in Flatland

Chapter 4: Metamodernity: The Postmodern Turn On the Enlightenment

Chapter 5: Western Modernity vs. Postcolonial Metahistory

Chapter 6: Coda: The Sot-Weed Factor and Mason & Dixon


Works Cited

Appendix: A Listing of Metahistorical Romance

What People are Saying About This

Linda Hutcheon

As someone who has written on the topics of history, postmodernism, and fiction, it is with great pleasure that I can honestly say that this book has made me seriously rethink my most cherished conceptions about this broad field of theoretical endeavor.

Linda Hutcheon, University of Toronto, President of the Modern Language Association of America (2000)

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