Graham Swift's Waterland: The Pessimistic End of History, or the Optimistic Reclamation of (Hi)story/-ies
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Waterland is one of the best representatives of the postmodern idea of history. It displays a concern for the end of history understood in traditional terms, and presents an alternative based on a mixture of official, personal, and natural (hi)story/-ies and even fairy-tales. The making of history and the construction of the self (exemplified by Tom Crick) are equated with the process of land reclamation in the East Anglian Fens, and, therefore, displayed as labours with only temporary validity. This loss of fixed mainstays that can support master-histories and solid selves —which would create illusions of static pasts— is understood as pessimistic by those who do not partake of the postmodern fundamentals. However, Swift’s message in Waterland is optimistic, for he understands this temporariness of man’s reconstructions of the/his past as liberating. He insists in the necessity of avoiding oppressive closures that make us prisoners of an overly rigid past. Thus, man’s reclamation of (hi)story/- ies and of the/his past are displayed as unfulfilled fulfilments which allow us to go on feeding on a liberating curiosity that helps us to make constant “improvisations upon reality”. In Waterland, only those characters who abandon curiosity, Mary (Tom’s wife) and Dick (his brother), are flawed, for they have not learnt “a way of giving reality the slip”.