Seaing through the Past

Postmodern Histories and the Maritime Metaphor in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction


Author: Joanna Rostek
From Daniel Defoe to Joseph Conrad, from Virginia Woolf to Derek Walcott, the sea has always been an inspiring setting and a powerful symbol for generations of British and Anglophone writers. Seaing through the Past is the first study to explicitly address the enduring relevance of the maritime metaphor in contemporary Anglophone fiction through in-depth readings of fourteen influential and acclaimed novels published in the course of the last three decades. The book trenchantly argues that in contemporary fiction, maritime imagery gives expression to postmodernism’s troubled relationship with historical knowledge, as theorised by Hayden White, Linda Hutcheon, and others. The texts in question are interpreted against the backdrop of four aspects of metahistorical problematisation. Thus, among others, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea (1978) is read in the context of auto/biographical writing, John Banville’s The Sea (2005) as a narrative of personal trauma, Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989) as investigating the connection between discourses of origin and the politics of power, and Fred D’Aguiar’s Feeding the Ghosts (1997) as opening up a postcolonial perspective on the sea and history. Persuasive and topical, Seaing through the Past offers a compelling guide to the literary oceans of today.

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" Seaing through the past is a welcome addtion to the 47 volumes of the Postmodern Studies series. It highlights the often forgotten yet undying strength of the maritime metaphor in literature and reminds us that while the sea may have lost the dominance it had during earlier periods of maritime-based global colonisation, it lingers in our cultural memory." – in: Historical Justice and Memory Research Network
"What this study therefore convincingly shows is how time and space converge in one of the oldest metaphors of human language and literature [the sea] and how it comments upon our desire for unity and history, which is unfulfillable. The highly readable, well-structured book interprets a corpus of texts that is, in this combination, innovative, and combines it with an approach to a metaphor that still yields an enormous imaginative power. Seaing through the Past thus indeed ‘offers a compelling guide to the literary oceans of today,’ as the dust jacket says." – Sarah Heinz, Mannheim, in: Anglistik 23/2 (2012), pp. 185-7
"This is a fine study of an important aspect of contemporary British fiction. […] The waves, the deep, the ocean currents, the storm, the islands, and the seashore are still of consequence in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.[…] The organization of SttP is very well thought out and argued for. The lucidity of the study´s organization is one of its great strengths. […] It is one of the merits of Rostek’s book that is provokes one to argue respectfully with it." – David Malcolm, Gdansk
New Histories – Old Metaphor
Wavering Biographies: Remembering Individual Histories
Salvaging the Self: Narratives of Personal Trauma
Influential Sources: Discourses of Origin and the Politics of Power
Reclaiming the Drowned: Post/Colonial Histories
List of Abbreviations
Works Cited