American Postmodernist Fiction and the Past - download pdf or read online

By Theophilus Savvas (auth.)

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She thus refuses for herself and for her husband the part of martyrs, which some on the left desired, and that of traitor, the part that officialdom, and much of the American media, scripted for them. Small wonder, then, that the chronicler concludes, sustaining the metaphor of the execution/History as a drama, that ‘the Rosenbergs and their lawyers were the only ones not rehearsed’ (Public Burning 121). However, if at the political level Nixon’s thinking is constrained by such determinist thought processes, in the personal sphere he recognises the power of the subjunctive – that the course of his life, and that of the Rosenbergs, might have been been different.

27 Coover’s death pageant certainly appears to fit the bill for the latter. Spurred on by Nixon, who, early in the novel laments that people often mistake him for a ‘carnival barker’, the riotous laughter of the people increases as the whole pageant degrades into a ritualistic orgy, waiting for the imminent collective orgasm that the execution itself will deliver. 28 In fact, I would suggest, that despite ostensible similarities, Coover’s pageant is never quite allowed to reach the level of carnival, at least in the Bakhtinian sense.

Writing the novel as Nixon’s presidency was imploding under the scandal of the Watergate break-in, Coover’s Nixon often appears imbued with the foresight of what will happen to him later. As a result he frequently considers himself not only as an outsider from the American centre, but as a victim just like the Rosenbergs: ‘our purposes, after all, were much the same’, he thinks, ‘to convince a stubbornly suspicious American public—our judges—of our innocence’ (Public Burning 309). Indeed, we may perhaps suggest that in an interesting parallel, Nixon himself was victim of his own mythical stereotype – his preWatergate moniker, ‘Tricky Dick’ – which for many established his guilt in the later scandal before it was actually proved.

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