Extreme histories : fictionalizing the past in contemporary American literature / Rocco Versaci.
In this dissertation I contend that both the extreme nature of particular historical events and various conditions in our culture have posed serious challenges to our historical understanding, and these challenges have in turn fostered a pointed artistic response in post-World War II American literature. More specifically, a literary trend has developed where history is no longer represented straightforwardly; instead, certain writers have recreated past events through a style best characterized as self-conscious fictionalization. While this method carries with it the potential to obfuscate historical understanding, I argue that in certain writers' hands metafictional historical narratives become a careful negotiation between the various silences fostered by the extreme past and the reconstitutive potential of fiction. The majority of my dissertation focuses on three recent works--David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident (1981), Art Spiegelman's Maus I (1986) and Maus II (1991), and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (1990)--that reflect and depart from specific literary traditions in order to self-consciously recreate the histories of, respectively, slavery, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam War. My study examines how these writers suggest that the subjective, imaginative ordering of historical extremity does not estrange us from these pasts but instead brings us closer to understanding them. Methodologically, my dissertation considers these works on the basis of both their internal poetics and representational strategies, as well as the historical, literary, and cultural contexts in which they are situated.
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