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Under Fire

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

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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Photograph “One Long Jump” © Michael H. Davies, 15 October 2008. By gracious permission.

Biography of Michael H. Davies

Michael Davies was raised in a family where his imagination was nurtured. Creatively, his first language was visual. He was trained as a visual artist at Sir Sandford Flemming School of Fine Arts, where he focused on studio work in pen and ink illustrations, painting in most mediums, glassblowing, artist blacksmith, stone carving, sculpture and photography. A life-long artist working in a variety of media, his work can be found in many private collections across the globe. He currently works in fine arts photography and pen and ink illustrations from his home studio in Pangnigtung, Nunavut, Canada.

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