The Puzzle of Historical Criticism

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Works of fiction are often criticized for their historical inaccuracies. But this practice poses a problem: why would we criticize a work of fiction for its historical inaccuracy given that it is a work of fiction? There is an intuition that historical inaccuracies in works of fiction diminish their value as works of fiction; and yet, given that they are works of fiction, there is also an intuition that such works should be free from the constraints of historical truth. The puzzle of historical criticism is that these intuitions are obviously in conflict, and yet we wish to give up neither. In this essay, I address the shortcomings of two seemingly intuitive strategies for solving the puzzle: the puzzle cannot be solved by appealing to historical constraints of a work’s genre, nor can it be explained as an instance of imaginative resistance. Given the failure of these two strategies, I suggest that there is no easy way to account for our conflicting intuitions and that the puzzle is deserving of greater attention.
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Archival date: 2017-03-21
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