Mary L. Mullen Responds

By describing how The Age of Analogy turns to the historical novel “for how we might reconcile epistemology and ontology,” David Coombs captures how Devin Griffiths’s arguments work on multiple levels.  Here, by intervening in contemporary debates about the relationship between literature and science, but also by offering a new literary history (that exceeds the literary) where the genre of the historical novel does important epistemological, ontological, and literary work. I found Coombs’s point that analogy “makes the past present by suspending the division between what we know and how we know” especially useful for navigating between the different dimensions of Griffiths’s argument.

But which pasts become present?  And how present can these pasts be? These questions emerge most pressingly in Griffiths’s coda where he posits the twenty first century “as an age of no analogy” because of the intensification of anthropogenic climate change (259).  Such a statement echoes a tendency to narrate climate crisis as a break from the past. In such narratives, part of our present (especially questions of race and empire) become past as ongoing social and political questions get sidelined in the face of impending (and already existing) catastrophe.  Dipesh Chakrabarty exemplifies this approach as he argues that thinking about climate change challenges “the analytic strategies that postcolonial and postimperial historians have deployed in the last two decades.”[1] One can just as easily argue, I would suggest, that climate change requires an intensification of the analytic strategies of postcolonial historians.  For this reason, I appreciated Griffiths’s conclusion: a call to continued comparative historicism and continued encounters with the past as we face the future.

[1] Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” Critical Inquiry 35 (Winter 2009): 198.

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