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Under Fire

William T. Vollmann, «The Rifles»: A Critical Study

Edited By Françoise Palleau-Papin

This study of a novel by William T. Vollmann offers a port of entry into his fiction. Like other titles from his planned «Seven Dreams» collection, The Rifles deconstructs the historical novel. Following in the steps of the nineteenth-century English explorer John Franklin, the contemporary American character Subzero risks his life in the Arctic, looking for a way to transcend the history of colonization and his personal limitations. He ventures out on the permafrost of his memory, both private and collective, haunted by history as he revisits the Gothic genre. Deploying the poetry of an anachronistic errand into the white wilderness of snow and ice, in the wake of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab and Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, the narrator plays with avatars of the author as an explorer, a historian, a cartographer and a sketch-artist to encounter otherness, whether Inuit women or men, or fellow travelers who exchange with the authorial figure in his search for meaning. This critical analysis uses close-reading, ecocriticism, cultural studies and comparative literature to examine an innovative novel of the post-postmodern canon, by one of the finest contemporary American authors.

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VINCENT BUCHER is associate professor in American literature at Stendhal University (Grenoble 3). He received his PhD from the University of Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle in 2012. His dissertation, entitled “A Practice Without a Theory – the Second Generation of the Very Long American Poem”, defended a pragmatic, rather than epic, reading of time in three mid-century American long poems: Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems, William Carlos William’s Paterson and Louis Zukofsky’s “A”.

SOPHIE CHAPUIS received her PhD in contemporary American literature from the University of Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her dissertation focused on novelist and short story writer Rick Moody, more specifically on the notions of accident and catastrophe in his work. She now teaches English at the University of Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne.

CATHERINE LANONE is Professor of English Literature at the University of Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. She has written two books on E.M. Forster and Emily Brontë and articles on Franklin’s narratives of his first and second expeditions by land. She is currently working on fictional rewritings of Franklin’s last expedition, and has published papers on Atwood’s, Simmons’, and Vollmann’s revisiting of the Franklin myth.

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