Matthias Schwartz: »History next door«. On the Topicality of the Historical Novel Today
Lecture at the MA Guest Lectures programme at the University of Amsterdam
Memory politics is a central issue of contemporary Russian and Ukrainian society. The commemoration of World War II in particular has become a core topic of new public remembrance practices, blockbuster movies, and state representation in recent years. At the same time, in Russian as well in Ukrainian literature we can observe the comeback of a realistic and documentary prose that claims a »new sincerity«, truthfulness, and emotional authenticity in representing the past. Whereas magical realism, alternative histories, and dystopian fantasies dominated the literary mainstream during the previous decades, now the »historical novel« promises readers instant access to the heroic or traumatic, forgotten or silenced events and incidents of earlier periods. Instead of postmodern relativism or political instrumentalization, historical novels proclaim a new realism that enables readers to gain a more intimate, »objective« world picture, as if history were »next door«.
Matthias Schwartz is a Slavist/historian and research associate for the project Affective Realism. Contemporary Eastern European Literatures.