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The end of the end of history: Swift's Waterland

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date1993
JournalModern Fiction Studies
Journal number4
Volume38
Number of pages15
Pages911-925
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a preview of the article.
This is a reading of Waterland as an allegorical exploration of postmodern theories of the end of history, treating those theories as the novel's intertexts, or subtexts. 1 As the study progresses I shall be interested in developing the broad politico-theological implications of my reading.
The most obvious lesson of Waterland is that the "Grand Narrative" of history ends more than once, or rather is always already ended. It first ends with the French Revolution which, as Tom Crick informs his pupils, in rejecting the past and tradition thereby rejected history itself. Tom, then, is already relating the end of history when, in a chapter entitled "About the End of History," he suddenly departs from the grand and objective narrative of the Revolution to narrate the small and subjective narratives of his own life. In short, the 1789 end of history does itself come to an end. Indeed, no sooner has Tom's own posthistorical narrative begun than it in turn is interrupted by the pupil Price who declares that "'the only important thing about history . . . is that it's . . . probably about to end'"(6). As Tom himself remarks, Price has contrived to "disrupt disruption" (51), to end the end of the end of history.
The significance of all this, needless to say, is that it brings into question the very idea of the end of history. And it is, of course, a confessedly ironic formulation; Baudrillard, for instance, even when using the phrase, "distances himself," writes Douglas Kellner, "from the very concept of 'the end of,' which he claims is embedded in a linear view of history" (173). Like postmodernism, Waterland may not allow us even the consolation of an end to the "Grand Narrative" of history since, it is implied, there never was such a narrative.