Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American Fiction: by Marni Gauthier

By Marni Gauthier

This publication indicates how a political and cultural dynamic of amnesia and fact telling shapes literary structures of heritage. Gauthier specializes in the works of Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Michelle Cliff, Bharati Mukherjee, and Julie Otsuka.

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Each novel in this study combines factual and experiential truths to inscribe facets of events that are integral to the nation’s past and yet missing from its orthodox historical accounts—what Free Enterprise calls the “official version” of history. Toni Morrison expounds a practice of counterhistory that is evocative of the collective project of these historical novels. Her method of historical research and writing, she says, is “literary archaeology”: “On the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork,” she digs in the historical archive and relies upon “the remains—in addition to recollection, to yield a kind of truth” (“Site” 112).

Reading this theoretical claim against the practice of contemporary historical fiction reveals narratives that, as I will show, revise or redeem the histories of their subjects. CH A P T ER 2 “The Downfall of the Empire and the Emergence of Detergents”: Underhistory in Don DeLillo’s Historical Novels More than perhaps any contemporary writer, Don DeLillo has been keenly attuned to national mythic history from the onset of his career—as the title of his first novel, Americana, suggests. DeLillo’s three Cold War–era novels particularly—Americana (1971), Libra (1988), and Underworld (1997)—mine documentary materials from World War II to the Kennedy assassination and the Cold War only to deconstruct the myth-narratives that have pervaded these landmark events.

The nature of this sadness stands out more clearly if one asks with whom the adherents of historicism actually empathize. The answer is inevitable: with the victor. . There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. ” Foucault’s point in “Truth and Power” that “each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; .

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