Michael Chabon’s ‘the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay’ Re-Presenting the Historical Novel


Can literature represent reality? And, if so, is the novel the best genre to do so? Although these questions are not new in the field of literary studies, a number of postmodern authors – and subsequently literary researchers – have drawn attention to the mimetic potential of literature on the one hand and the problematic relation between fiction and reality on the other. One of these writers is Michael Chabon, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is set in the past, but it is not a historical novel as it sets out to unmask historical novels as totalising narratives. Drawing on Linda Hutcheon’s terminology, Chabon’s magnum opus can be described as an example of historiographic metafiction. Moreover, Kavalier & Clay’s rejection of the traditional historiographic perspective means another perspective has to be embraced. And it is precisely this otherness (Foucault), this contrastive position in relation to the dominant point of view, that defines this new perspective. Kavalier & Clay does not only question the boundaries of literature, but also of our universe and our view or description of that universe. The different ‘ontologies’ – as defined by Brian McHale – that run through Kavalier & Clay cannot easily be distinguished from each other and create ontological ambiguities that cause the novel to resist interpretation. Especially the combination of mythification and demythification causes ontological doubt as ‘the world as we know it’ is negated.

Author Information
Frederik De Vadder, KULeuven, Belgium

Paper Information
Conference: LibEuro2015
Stream: Literature - Anglo-American Literature

This paper is part of the LibEuro2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon