The term history gathers to itself, and disperses, as troubled and complex a nexus of theory, ideology and practice as any term in our critical vocabulary. Yet I argue here that this term is as inevitable and necessary as it is problematic, especially in discussions of the novel. For me there is no question that shifts in novelistic form are enabled by (and constitutive of) specific historical conjunctures, understood within a notion of contemporaneous historical formations. In order to understand what has made possible certain novelistic forms that are either dominant or culturally powerful at any given historical moment, it is necessary to look at the culture surrounding the production of that novel, and to do so in a way that takes into account the historical conditions that produced or made possible that particular cultural configuration. The modernist novel was perfectly ambivalent about the threat or promise of what Perry Anderson has called “the revolutionary horizon” visible at the turn into the twentieth century. In a contemporary, postmodern, historical novel such as Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, history is what Pynchon calls “time's pathology”—a pathology whose symptoms and pain can perhaps be managed, if not cured.

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