Panel 4 – Alternate History in Europe
- Mikhaylo Nazarenko, Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University (Ukraine), “Post-colonial alternate history: the case of Ukrainian literature”
- Marzena Sokołowska-Paryż, University of Warsaw (Poland) “Ideological (Mis)Uses of Genre: Dystopian Visions of the ‘Past-Present’ in Daniel Quinn’s and Stephen Fry’s Alternate Histories”
- Chris Pak, Lancaster University, (UK), “‘It Is One Story’: Writing a Global Alternative History in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt”
Post-colonial alternate history: the case of Ukrainian literature
The study deals with the development of the alternate history genre in the post-Soviet Ukrainian literature. In Soviet times this genre was nearly forbidden in the USSR, and only some timid attempts of introducing it were made in the Russian SF before the perestroika. The Ukrainian literature, however, was allowed to develop the “chimerical prose”, analogous to the Latin-American magical realism, but based upon the national folkloric traditions and heavily influenced by Nikolay Gogol. So, late-Soviet alternate history developed mainly in the framework of SF; Ukrainian alternate history was formed mainly by the “chimerical” and fantasy influences.
The restoration of the national memory is one of the main issues of the contemporary Ukrainian culture. So various transformations of the historical prose were introduced in the 1990s, e. g. alternate history, secret history, postmodern metafiction etc. Paradoxically, many of these genre forms were transmitted into the Ukrainian culture via Russian literature or Russian translations at the same time as Ukraine searched its ways of cultural independence.
There are two main branches of the Ukrainian literature of the fantastic – in Ukrainian and in Russian. The second one was much more prominent in the 1990s and naturally was mainly oriented at the general post-Soviet reader, though it often used the national imagery. No less important is the fact that the divergence points in the alternate histories or the events described in the historical fantasies written in Russian and Ukrainian were rather different. For instance, the Austro-Hungatian past of the Western Ukraine was nearly unknown for the casual Russian reader, and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (formed in 1942) remains the controversial topic even in the Ukrainian society.
The study defines the main historical events and/or cultural zones that were in the focus of the Ukrainian alternate histories written in both languages and shows the attempts to recreate or to confirm the historical models and narratives that exist in the post-colonial culture.
Mikhaylo Nazarenko (born 1977) is the assistant professor of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University, Ukraine (Department of the History of Russian Literature, Institute of Philology). His main areas of study are mythopoetics in literature, the Russian historical prose, the early history of fantasy and the reflections of Taras Shevchenko’s image in critics and folklore.
Ideological (Mis)Uses of Genre: Dystopian Visions of the ‘Past-Present’ in Daniel Quinn’s and Stephen Fry’s Alternate Histories
The vast field of fictional rewritings of the history of the Second World War shows clearly that alternate scenarios of the past are inevitably embedded within a literary genre or genres, be it the combat narrative (Andy Johnson’s Seelöwe Nord: The Germans are Coming), the occupation narrative (Murray Davies’s Collaborator), the detective story combined with the political thriller (Robert Harris’s Fatherland or Len Deighton’s SS-GB ), not to mention the best-known example of dystopia-alternate history hybridity, namely Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. The focus of this paper will be a comparative analysis of the uses of the literary convention of dystopia in American author Daniel Quinn’s After Dachau (2001) and British author Stephen Fry’s Making History (1996). In both novels, the fictive victory of the Third Reich brings into being a dystopian “contemporary” reality, yet if the purpose of conveying such a chilling alternate world in Making History is to reaffirm Germany’s historical culpability, in After Dachau, such an alternate scenario serves to underscore the trans-historical and trans-national aspects of social and political mechanisms that allow for the exclusion of an imagined “Other,” which, in the extreme cases of totalitarian systems, led to genocide. These are, however, also the mechanisms which govern contemporary democratic societies. If in Fry’s novel the Third Reich is the ultimate evil in the history of civilization, in Quinn’s novel it is a mirror in which we are to see the truth of our contemporary selves. Making History will be analyzed as an appropriation of Daniel Goldhagen’s arguments set forth in Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, whereas the meaning of Quinn’s dystopian fiction will be discussed in relation to René Girard’s concept of the generative mimetic scapegoat mechanism, as well as Michael Goldberg’s concept of multidirectional memory.
Marzena Sokołowska-Paryż is Associate Professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland, where she teaches courses on contemporary British and Commonwealth literature, with specific emphasis on war fiction and film in relation to history, memory, and national identity, including the course on “WHAT IF Nazi Germany won? Alternate histories of the Second World War in academic studies, prose fiction and film.” She is the author of Reimagining the War Memorial, Reinterpreting the Great War: The Formats of British Commemorative Fiction and The Myth of War in British and Polish Poetry, 1939-1945. The Great War in Post-Memory Literature and Film, co-edited with Martin Löschnigg, was published by De Gruyter in 2014.
‘It Is One Story’: Writing a Global Alternative History in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt
Alternative histories create a ludic space where a game of allusion, extrapolation and speculation is played. They make salient aspects of society, culture and history that might otherwise have remained unremarked, hidden or difficult to disentangle from “real-world” historical narratives. The jonbar point is a speculative leap that opens up an imaginative space where an estranged history that speaks back to issues of our contemporary world and our perspective on history can be traced. The influence of a “real-world” history remains a shadow throughout the alternative history, both because the reader can compare and contrast fictional, historical and experienced worlds, and because the narrative is paradoxically shaped against that history.
In Kim Stanley Robinson’s (2002) The Years of Rice and Salt, scenes set in the Bardo, an intermediate state between death and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism, introduces a frame for reflecting on the game of history played out it the text. The figure of Monkey from Journey to the West emblematises the play of the alternative history. In this paper I examine the ways in which the alternate history is used to present history and the development of societies in the context of an absent Europe. I consider the use of textual strategies such as the narrative cohesion generated through the reincarnation of focal characters and explore several scenes to consider what they say about history and culture. Ultimately, I aim to explore how The Years of Rice and Salt portrays the actors who make up the story of history, how this history is itself characterised and what repercussions these explorations have for reading the stories that make up contemporary “real-world” history.
Editor of the Science Fiction Research Association's SFRA Review (sfra.org/sfrareview) and a researcher on the Leverhulme funded corpus linguistics project, "'People', 'Products', 'Pests' and 'Pets': The Discursive Representation of Animals" (animaldiscourse.wordpress.com). I have published articles on terraforming in science fiction, sustainability, postnationalism and computing. More information and links to published articles can be found at chrispak.wix.com/chrispak.