After the fact : authority and the historical document in recent literature / by Elizabeth Mary Rich.
This study examines literary texts in light of the problem of representation as recently understood by writers, scholars, and critics who question the distinction between “fact” and “fiction.” Though all historical accounts select, arrange and make value judgements on information, scholars such as Hayden White and Linda Hutcheon note that historiography's conventions often mask this process, generating carefully crafted narratives that assume complete authority. Moreover, this selection process involves unconscious and conscious choices that exclude disempowered groups. To resolve this problem, the primary literary texts addressed in this study incorporate historical documents and conflicting, incomplete accounts of events to reveal at once neglected versions of history and the processes that work to construct historiographies. These literary texts highlight the influence of cultural and political contexts on any attempt to register the past, demonstrating that writing history is as much an engagement with present, political conditions as it is a matter of recording past events. The six texts in this study recover official and neglected documents to view history from marginal perspectives. Section I pairs D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel with Toni Morrison's Beloved to explore the writers' reconsideration of eye-witness accounts, specifically the Holocaust survivor narrative and the slave narrative. Section II analyzes Susan Howe's Singularities , which rewrites the Indian captivity narrative, and Hannah Weiner's Spoke, which revises the 1868 Black Hills treaty, to focus on the ways that popular and official texts promoted the colonial imaginary and functioned to justify colonial expansion. And, finally, section III focuses on Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and Robert Coover's The Public Burning, which critique the press's authority by questioning its claim to objectivity. As these primary texts recover lost histories, their representations refuse cohesive forms in favor of unresolved versions of events. These texts, moreover, highlight the unstable and hybrid nature of the historical document and offer a variety of ways to access the cultural conditions that produced the documents without claiming absolute access to the events themselves.
Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:47:00
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