Thinking about the end : posthistory, ideology, and narrative closure

Rose, Barbara Campbell (2001) Thinking about the end : posthistory, ideology, and narrative closure. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Has history come to an end? The novels under discussion here examine posthistorical paralysis and indicate that the end of history is promoted by the dominant ideology of American culture: the assumption that "America" occupies the millennial site of history's universal terminus. Written during Cold War and post-Cold War anxieties about American destiny, these novels confront the teleological premise of that ideology, offering a characteristic suspicion of narrative endings. John Edgar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire (1990) reveals how the master narrative of America is structurally exclusive. E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime (1975) and Robert Coover's The Public Burning (1977) examine the teleological plot that presents historical process as natural necessity and reject the closed universe of apocalyptic history. William Burroughs's Cities of the Red Night (1981) and Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (1990) question the paranoid suspicion of conspiracy as another way of thinking about the end; both deploy a strategic nostalgia that aims to recover what triumphal history tries to disavow. Don DeLillo's Underworld (1997) challenges the political cynicism of the posthistoric end and rejects both the triumphalist view of a completed history and the pessimist view of an exhausted history. Contradiction is thus a privileged term, yet Underworld also seeks to resolve it, answering the call of the dominant ideology's millennial seduction by stressing what remains emphatically uncompleted at the supposed end of history. All these novels suggest that closure is to be both resisted and desired, revealing a common utopian element that obliges us to consider the appeal of history completing itself when universal justice is finally achieved. The end of history might be impossible, these novels argue, but they insist that its impossibility is the very condition of possibility for ethical action in history. Philadelphia Fire, Ragtime, The Public Burning, Cities of the Red Night, Vineland, and Underworld urge that we conceive of the end of history as a necessary goal but reject determinist History and the calculated alibis it provides.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 7303
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 268-297.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2001
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: United States
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Postmodernism (Literature)--United States; History--Philosophy; American literature--20th century--History and criticism

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