A (late) postmodernist phenomenon, histopias are fictional retellings of the history of the world. They often use utopian/dystopian scenarios, which are necessary as “world-historical effect”: the end and/or rebirth of the world offer the possibility of narrating the fate of all mankind. Whether novelists or playwrights, histopian authors use a structural pattern that mirrors the way in which the world tells itself: both continuous and discontinuous, in turn linear, cyclical, or radial.
The foremost examples of histopias analysed here are Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, although the discussion of this fictional subgenre includes authors such as Bernard Shaw, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Carlos Fuentes, Roberto Calasso, William T. Vollmann. History, in the view of many histopian authors, is not unlike Borges’s “Library of Babel,” that is, “limitless and periodic,” consisting of a single volume with an infinite number of pages, each of which is divided “into other analogous leaves. The inconceivable central leaf would have no reverse.” Both A History of the World, organized around its central section, and Cloud Atlas, all whose sections are divided into analogous ones, but whose central section has no reverse, feign infinity and eternal recurrence in an effort to contain all of History.