From Counter History to Narration of Identity: A Postmodernist Reading of Ishmael Reed’s Flight to Canada

Seyed Bakhtiar Sadjadi, Somayeh Ghorbani


By undermining the fundamental presuppositions of the Enlightenment and modernist approaches to history which had been dominant for centuries, the poststructuralist philosophy offered a new outlook in defining history by foregrounding its ontology. One such poststructuralist approach to history is that of the American philosopher of history, Hayden White. By proposing historical sublime, White challenged the rudimentary assumptions of Enlightenment/modernist philosophies of history to render them ineffectual and insufficient. Parallel to the development of poststructuralist philosophy of history, historiographic meta-fiction burgeoned to criticize the traditional attitudes towards history by, for instance, intermingling the historical and the fictional, as well as by employing narratological techniques of its own. In the preset article, while providing a comparative study of the major approaches to history, namely, the Enlightenment and modernist on the one hand and the poststructuralist on the other, it is attempted to analyze Ishmael Reed’s 1976 novel Flight to Canada in order to investigate the strategies and novelistic techniques by the help of which he manifested the poststructuralist tenets to history. By reading the novel in terms of White’s critical key concepts on history, it could be argued that in deconstruction the fundamental conventions of historiography and of the classical slave narrative. Reed constructs an apocryphal history of the American Civil War period. Such a counter-history provides a new narration of history by the help of which Reed foregrounds the history of the black people as a racial minority and makes their silenced voices heard and acknowledged. This new narration of history in turn leads to a new narration of identity in which Reed distances his narrative from the traditional essentiality accounts of identity and welcomes instead the poststructuralist constructivism.



Anachronism; Historiographic meta-fiction; History; Identity; Postmodernism; Teleology

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