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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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Chapter I. History that Matters: Some New Ways of Problematizing History in Fiction


Chapter I History that Matters: Some New Ways of Problematizing History in Fiction The abundance and variety of literary texts produced annually in the United States make any generalization, if not impossible, then at least contestable and problematic. However, even a quick look at the most recent American and European fiction written over the last thirty years or so reveals an increasing interest in historical matters and historical consciousness as a consolidating tool for meaningful human existence in today’s world. The dominance of this vision is typical not only of ethnic or other minorities’ literatures. For them, a historic component was a prerequisite for their inclusion into the new cultural mosaic and a major means of identity-quest. A renewal of literary interest in the workings of historical consciousness can be viewed as part of a broader cultural tendency while the re-interpretation of history becomes one of the central themes in much of the most recent American fiction. The German scholar Aleida Assmann speaks about a “new concern with the past” as a phenomenon that emerged in the late 1980s and developed fully in the 1990s. According to Assmann, the present keen interest in the past can be explained by a range of social, political, ideological and cultural reasons, among which she singles out the following: • the breakdown of the so called “grand-narratives” at the end of the cold war that had provided frameworks for the interpretation of the past and future orientation and, together with it, the resurgence of frozen...

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