Christa Wolf’s “Cassandra” and Thomas Pynchon’s “V” constitute two strikingly different late 20th century imaginative engagements with, and challenges to, the realist generic conventions of traditional historical fiction and the assumptions about history that underlie such conventions. These narratives are driven not so much by standard rules of objectivity and causality in relation to precision about chronological events, but rather by the obsessive and idiosyncratic tracking of, in Pynchon’s case, an initial in a notebook through “history's rags and straws” (a range of late 19th and early 20th century events around the globe) and in Wolf’s case the “keyword” Cassandra in literary history (Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon). As I will demonstrate by way of close literary analysis organised in relation to Hayden White’s ideas about the history / narrative connection, as well as to Nietzsche’s idea of critical history, these texts, while giving us two quite different counter-realist engagements with history in terms of focus, trajectory, meaning, and philosophy, both foreground the complex roles of subjectivity, imagination, and desire in what Nietzsche would call the uses and abuses of history in making it of service to life.
|Keywords:||Genre, Subjectivity, History, Literature|
Associate Professor, Cultural Studies Department, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada