Manuscript Media

Serial Historiography: Literature, Narrative History, and the Anxiety of Truth


Dismissing history’s truths, Hayden White provocatively asserts that there is an “inexpugnable relativity” in every representation of the past. In the current dialogue between literary scholars and historical empiricists, postmodern theorists assert that narrative is enclosed, moribund, and impermeable to the fluid demands of history. My critical intervention frames history as a recursive, performative process through historical and critical analysis of the narrative function of seriality. Seriality, through the material distribution of texts in discrete components, gives rise to a constellation of entimed narrative strategies that provide a template for human experience. I argue that serial form is both fundamental to the project of history and intrinsically subjective. Rather than foreclosing the historiographic relevance of storytelling, my reading of serials from comic books to the fiction of William Faulkner foregrounds the possibilities of narrative to remain open, contingent, and responsive to the potential fortuities of historiography. In the post-9/11 literary and historical landscape, conceiving historiography as a serialized, performative enterprise controverts prevailing models of hermeneutic suspicion that dominate
both literary and historiographic skepticism of narrative truth claims and revives an ethics responsive to the raucous demands of the past.