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«We Search the Past … for Our Own Lost Selves.»

Representations of Historical Experience in Recent American Fiction


Marta Koval

The book is a study of the most recent American fiction, published at the turn of the 21th century, which demonstrates a renewed interest in the matters of history. Using the concepts of memory and experience, the author points at the ways in which subjective history has been created in the new «novel about history», written by such authors as William Gass, Richard Powers, Marilynne Robinson, Nicholson Baker, Aleksandar Hemon, and Jeffrey Eugenides. Theoretically, the study has been inspired by the works of Aleida Assmann, Hayden White, Reinhart Koselleck, Frank Ankersmit, and Dominick LaCapra.


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This book is an attempt to describe and explain the revived interest in matters of history that the most recent American fiction clearly demonstrates. Certainly, at the moment (and it has been like this for at least the last thirty years) the literature of the United States is so thematically and discursively diverse that the search for clear-cut tendencies may eventually turn out to be only a superficial generalization. However, after certain criteria of selection have been established, it is possible to outline some interesting developments, although with the awareness that even the geographical range of US fiction is so large that any conclusion will be partial. The individualized interpretation of the past and the significance of a personal vision of history are features that the novels included in the present analysis seem to share. These are fairly recent novels, written and published between 1985 and 2008, and the interest in Great History that is apparent in all of them permits us to consider them as a distinct group to which other texts may also be added, even though they are different in terms of poetics and themes. The book consists of six chapters. Chapter I, “History that Matters: Some New Ways of Problematizing History in Fiction,” focuses on the increasing interest in historical matters and the fiction of historical consciousness in particular, and explains this tendency in terms of a number of social, political, cultural, and ideological factors. Particular emphasis is placed upon the significance of this process in...

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