Historiographic Metafiction Essay
The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full-stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network. -Foucault What we tend to call postmodernism in literature today is usually characterized by intense self-reflexivity and overtly parodic intertextuality. In fiction this means that it is usually metafiction that is equated with the postmodern.
Given the scarcity of precise definitions of this problematic period designation, such an equation is often accepted without question. What I would like to argue is that, in the interests of precision and consistency, we must add something else to this definition: an equally self-conscious dimension of history. My model here is postmodern architecture, that resolutely parodic recalling of the history of architectural forms and functions. The theme of the 1980 Venice Biennale, which introduced postmodernism to the architectural world, was “The Presence of the Past.
” The term postmodernism, when used in fiction, should, by analogy, best be reserved to describe fiction that is at once metafictional and historical in its echoes of the texts and contexts of the past. In order to distinguish this paradoxical beast from traditional historical fiction, I would like to label it “historiographic metafiction. ” The category of novel I am thinking of includes One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ragtime, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and The Name of the Rose.
All of these are popular and familiar novels whose metafictional self-reflexivity (and intertextuality) renders their implicit claims to historical veracity somewhat problematic, to say the least. 3 LINDA HUTCHEON In the wake of recent assaults by literary and philosophical theory on modernist formalist closure, postmodern American fiction, in particular, has sought to open itself up to history, to what Edward Said (The World) calls the “world.
” But it seems to have found that it can no longer do so in any innocent way: the certainty of direct reference of the historical novel or even the nonfictional novel is gone. So is the certainty of self-reference implied in the Borgesian claim that both literature and the world are equally fictive realities. The postmodern relationship between fiction and history is an even more complex one of interaction and mutual implication.
Historiographic metafiction works to situate itself within historical discourse without surrendering its autonomy as fiction. And it is a kind of seriously ironic parody that effects both aims: the intertexts of history and fiction take on parallel (though not equal) status in the parodic reworking of the textual past of both the “world” and literature. The textual incorporation of these intertextual past(s) as a constitutive structural element of postmodernist fiction functions as a formal marking of historicity-both literary and “worldly.
” At first glance it would appear that it is only its constant ironic signaling of difference at the very heart of similarity that distinguishes postmodern parody from medieval and Renaissance imitation (see Greene 17). For Dante, as for E. L. Doctorow, the texts of literature and those of history are equally fair game. Nevertheless, a distinction should be made: “Traditionally, stories were stolen, as Chaucer stole his; or they were felt to be the common property of a culture or community …
These notable happenings, imagined or real, lay outside language the way history itself is supposed to, in a condition of pure occurrence” (Gass 147). Today, there is a return to the idea of a common discursive “property” in the embedding of both literary and historical texts in fiction, but it is a return made problematic by overtly metafictional assertions of both history and literature as human constructs, indeed, as human illusions-necessary, but none the less illusory for all that.
The intertextual parody of historiographic metafiction enacts, in a way, the views of certain contemporary historiographers (see Canary and Kozicki): it offers a sense of the presence of the past, but this is a past that can only be known from its texts, its traces-be they literary or historical. Clearly, then, what I want to call postmodernism is a paradoxical cultural phenomenon, and it is also one that operates across many traditional disciplines.
In contemporary theoretical discourse, for instance, we find puzzling contradictions: those masterful denials of mastery, totalizing negations of totalization, continuous attest4 HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION ings of discontinuity. In the postmodern novel the conventions of both fiction and historiography are simultaneously used and abused, installed and subverted, asserted and denied. And the double (literary/historical) nature of this intertextual parody is one of the major means by which this paradoxical (and defining) nature of postmodernism is textually inscribed.
Perhaps one of the reasons why there has been such heated debate on the definition of postmodernism recently is that the implications of the doubleness of this parodic process have not been fully examined. Novels like The Book of Daniel or The Public Burning-whatever their complex intertextual layering-can certainly not be said to eschew history, any more than they can be said to ignore either their moorings in social reality (see Graff 209) or a clear political intent (see Eagleton 61).
Historiographic metafiction manages to satisfy such a desire for “worldly” grounding while at the same time querying the very basis of the authority of that grounding. As David Lodge has put it, postmodernism short-circuits the gap between text and world (239-4 0 ) . Discussions of postmodernism seem more prone than most to confusing self-contradictions, again perhaps because of the paradoxical nature of the subject itself. Charles Newman, for instance, in his provocative book The Post-Modern Aura, begins by defining postmodern art as a “commentary on the aesthetic history of whatever genre it adopts” (44).
This would, then, be art which sees history only in aesthetic terms (57). However, when postulating an American version of postmodernism, he abandons this metafictional intertextual definition to call American literature a “literature without primary influences,” “a literature which lacks a known parenthood,” suffering from the “anxiety of non-influence” (87). As we shall see, an examination of the novels of Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow, John Barth, Ishmael Reed, Thomas Pynchon, and others casts a reasonable doubt on such pronouncements.
On the one hand, Newman wants to argue that postmodernism at large is resolutely parodic; on the other, he asserts that the American postmodern deliberately puts “distance between itself and its literary antecedents, an obligatory if occasionally conscience-stricken break with the past” (172).
Newman is not alone in his viewing of postmodern parody as a form of ironic rupture with the past (see Thiher 214), but, as in postmodernist architecture, there is always a paradox at the heart of that “post”: irony does indeed mark the difference from the past, but the intertextual echoing simultaneously works to affirm-textually and hermeneutically-the connection with the past.
When that past is the literary period we now seem to label as 5 LINDA HUTCHEON modernism, then what is both instated and then subverted is the notion of the work of art as a closed, self-sufficient, autonomous object deriving its unity from the formal interrelations of its parts. In its characteristic attempt to retain aesthetic autonomy while still returning the text to the “world,” postmodernism both asserts and then undercuts this formalistic view.
But this does not necessitate a return to the world of “ordinary reality,” as some have argued (Kern 216); the “world” in which the text situates itself is the “world” of discourse, the “world” of texts and intertexts. This “world” has direct links to the world of empirical reality, but it is not itself that empirical reality. It is a contemporary critical truism that realism is really a set of conventions, that the representation of the real is not the same as the real itself.
What historiographic metafiction challenges is both any naive realist concept of representation and any equally naive textualist or formalist assertions of the total separation of art from the world. The postmodern is selfconsciously art “within the archive” (Foucault 92), and that archive is both historical and literary. In the light of the work of writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Salman Rushdie, D. M. Thomas,John Fowles, Umberto Eco, as well as Robert Coover, E. L.
Doctorow, John Barth, Joseph Heller, Ishmael Reed, and other American novelists, it is hard to see why critics such as Allen Thiher, for instance, “can think of no such intertextual foundations today” as those of Dante in Virgil (189)’ Are we really in the midst of a crisis of faith in the “possibility of historical culture” (189)? Have we ever not been in such a crisis? To parody is not to destroy the past; in fact, to parody is both to enshrine the past and to question it. And this is the postmodern paradox.
The theoretical exploration of the “vast dialogue” (Calinescu, 169) between and among literatures and histories that configure postmodernism has, in part, been made possible by Julia Kristeva’s early reworking of the Bakhtinian notions of polyphony, dialogism, and heteroglossia-the multiple voicings of a text. Out of these ideas she developed a more strictly formalist theory of the irreducible plurality of texts within and behind any given text, thereby deflecting the critical focus away from the notion of the subject (here, the author) to the idea of textual productivity.
Kristeva and her colleagues at Tel Quel in the late sixties and early seventies mounted a collective attack on the founding subject (alias: the “romantic” cliche of the author) as the original and originating source of fixed and fetishized meaning in the text. And, of course, this also put into question the entire notion of the “text” as an autonomous entity, with immanent meaning. 6 HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION In America a similar formalist impulse had provoked a similar attack much earlier in the form of the New Critical rejection of the “intentional fallacy” (Wimsatt).
Nevertheless, it would seem that even though we can no longer talk comfortably of authors (and sources and influences), we still need a critical language in which to discuss those ironic allusions, those re-contextualized quotations, those double-edged parodies both of genre and of specific works that proliferate in modernist and postmodernist texts. This, of course, is where the concept of intertextuality has proved so useful.
As later defined by Roland Barthes (Image 160) and Michael Riffaterre (142-43), intertextuality replaces the challenged authortext relationship with one between reader and text, one that situates the locus of textual meaning within the history of discourse itself. A literary work can actually no longer be considered original; if it were, it could have no meaning for its reader. It is only as part of prior discourses that any text derives meaning and significance. Not surprisingly, this theoretical redefining of aesthetic value has coincided with a change in the kind of art being produced.
Postmodernly parodic composer George Rochberg, in the liner notes to the Nonesuch recording of his String Quartet no. 3 articulates this change in these terms: “I have had to abandon the notion of ‘originality,’ in which the personal style of the artist and his ego are the supreme values; the pursuit of the one-idea, uni-dimensional work and gesture which seems to have dominated the esthetics of art in the aoth century; and the received idea that it is necessary to divorce oneself from the past.
“In the visual arts too, the works of Shusaku Arakawa, Larry Rivers, Tom Wesselman, and others have brought about, through parodic intertextuality (both aesthetic and historical), a real skewing of any “romantic” notions of subjectivity and creativity. As in historiographic metafiction, these other art forms parodically cite the intertexts of both the “world” and art and, in so doing, contest the boundaries that many would unquestioningly use to separate the two.
In its most extreme formulation, the result of such contesting would be a “break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable” (Derrida 185). While postmodernism, as I am defining it here, is perhaps somewhat less promiscuously extensive, the notion of parody as opening the text up, rather than closing it down, is an important one: among the many things that postmodern intertextuality challenges are both closure and single, centralized meaning.
Its willed and willful provisionality rests largely upon its acceptance of the inevitable textual infiltration of prior discursive 7 LINDA HUTCHEON practices. Typically contradictory, intertextuality in postmodern art both provides and undermines context. In Vincent B. Leitch’s terms, it “posits both an uncentered historical enclosure and an abysmal decentered foundation for language and textuality; in so doing, it exposes all contextualizations as limited and limiting, arbitrary and confining, self-serving and authoritarian, theological and political.
However paradoxically formulated, intertextuality offers a liberating determinism” (162). It is perhaps clearer now why it has been claimed that to use the term intertextuality in criticism is not just to avail oneself of a useful conceptual tool: it also signals a “prise de position, un champ de reference”
(Angenot 122). But its usefulness as a theoreticalframework that is both hermeneutic and formalist is obvious in dealing with historiographic metafiction that demands of the reader not only the recognition of textualized traces of the literary and historical past but also the awareness of what has been done-through irony-to those traces.
The reader is forced to acknowledge not only the inevitable textuality of our knowledge of the past, but also both the value and the limitation of that inescapably discursive form of knowledge, situated as it is “between presence and absence” (Barilli). halo Calvina’s Marco Polo in Invisible Cities both is and is not the historical Marco Polo. How can we, today, “know” the Italian explorer? We can only do so by way of texts-including his own (Il Milione) , from which Calvino parodically takes his frame tale, his travel plot, and his characterization (Musarra 141).
Roland Barthes once defined the intertext as “the impossibility of living outside the infinite text” (Pleasure 36), thereby making intertextuality the very condition of textuality. Umberto Eco, writing of his novel The Name of the Rose, claims: “1 discovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told” (20).
The stories that The Name of the Rose retells are both those of literature (by Arthur Conan Doyle, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, T.S. Eliot, among others) and those of history (medieval chronicles, religious testimonies).
This is the parodically doubled discourse of postmodernist intertextuality. However, this is not just a doubly introverted form of aestheticism: the theoretical implications of this kind of historiographic metafiction coincide with recent historiographic theory about the nature of history writing as narrativization (rather than representation) of the past and about the nature of the archive as the textualized remains of history (see White, “The Question”).
8 HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION In other words, yes, postmodernism manifests a certain introversion, a self-conscious turning toward the form of the act of writing itself; but it is also much more than that. It does not go so far as to “establish an explicit literal relation with that real world beyond itself,” as some have claimed (Kirernidjian 238). Its relationship to the “worldly” is still on the level of discourse, but to claim that is to claim quite a lot.
After all, we can only “know” (as opposed to “experience”) the world through our narratives (past and present) of it, or so postmodernism argues. The present, as well as the past, is always already irremediably textualized for us (Belsey 46), and the overt intertextuality of historiographic metafiction serves as one of the textual signals of this postmodern realization. Readers of a novel like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five do not have to proceed very far before picking up these signals.
The author is identified on the title page as “a fourth-generation German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod (and smoking too much), who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a long time ago, and survived to tell the tale. This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. Peace.
” The character, Kurt Vonnegut, appears in the novel, trying to erase his memories of the war and of Dresden, the destruction of which he saw from “Slaughterhouse-Five,” where he worked as a POW. The novel itself opens with: “All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true” (7). Counterpointed to this historical context, however, is the (metafictionally marked) Billy Pilgrim, the optometrist who helps correct defective vision-including his own, though it takes the planet Tralfamadore to give him his new perspective.
Billy’s fantasy life acts as an allegory of the author’s own displacements and postponements (i. e. , his other novels) that prevented him from writing about Dresden before this, and it is the intratexts of the novel that signal this allegory: Tralfamadore itself is from Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, Billy’s home in Illium is from Player Piano, characters appear from Mother Night and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
The intertexts, however, function in similar ways, and their provenience is again double: there are actual historical intertexts (documentaries on Dresden, etc.), mixed with those of historical fiction (Stephen Crane, Celine). But there are also structurally and thematically connected allusions: to Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East and to various works of science fiction.
Popular 9 LINDA HUTCHEON and high-art intertexts mingle: Valley of the Dolls meets the poems of William Blake and Theodore Roethke. All are fair game and all get re-contextualized in order to challenge the imperialistic (cultural and political) mentalities that bring about the Dresdens of history.
Thomas Pynchon’s V. uses double intertexts in a similarly “loaded” fashion to formally enact the author’s related theme of the entropic destructiveness of humanity. Stencil’s dossier, its fragments of the texts of history, is an amalgam of literary intertexts, as if to remind us that “there is no one writable ‘truth’ about history and experience, only a series of versions: it always comes to us ‘stencillized'” (Tanner 172). And it is always multiple, like V’s identity.
Patricia Waugh notes that metafiction such as Slaughterhouse-Five or The Public Burning “suggests not only that writing history is a fictional act, ranging events conceptually through language to form a world-model, but that history itself is invested, like fiction, with interrelating plots which appear to interact independently of human design” (48-49). Historiographic metafiction is particularly doubled, like this, in its inscribing of both historical and literary intertexts.
Its specific and general recollections of the forms and contents of history writing work to familiarize the unfamiliar through (very familiar) narrative structures (as Hayden White has argued [“The Historical Text,” 49-50]), but its metafictional selfreflexivity works to render problematic any such familiarization. And the reason for the sameness is that both real and imagined worlds come to us through their accounts of them, that is, through their traces, their texts. The ontological line between historical past and literature is not effaced (see Thiher 190), but underlined.
The past really did exist, but we can only “know” that past today through its texts, and therein lies its connection to the literary. If the discipline of history has lost its privileged status as the purveyor of truth, then so much the better, according to this kind of modern historiographic theory: the loss of the illusion of transparency in historical writing is a step toward intellectual self-awareness that is matched by metafiction’s challenges to the presumed transparency of the language of realist texts.
When its critics attack postmodernism for being what they see as ahistorical (as do Eagleton, Jameson, and Newman), what is being referred to as “postrnodern” suddenly becomes unclear, for surely historiographic metafiction, like postmodernist architecture and painting, is overtly and resolutely historical-though, admittedly, in an ironic and problematic way that acknowledges that history is not the transparent record of any sure “truth. ” Instead, such fiction 10.
HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION corroborates the views of philosophers of history such as Dominick LaCapra who argue that “the past arrives in the form of texts and textualized remainders-memories, reports, published writings, archives, monuments, and so forth” (128) and that these texts interact with one another in complex ways. This does not in any way deny the value of history-writing; it merely redefines the conditions of value in somewhat less imperialistic terms.
Lately, the tradition of narrative history with its concern “for the short time span, for the individual and the event” (Braudel 27), has been called into question by the Annales School in France. But this particular model of narrative history was, of course, also that of the realist novel. Historiographic metafiction, therefore, represents a challenging of the (related) conventional forms of fiction and history through its acknowledgment of their inescapable textuality.
As Barthes once remarked, Bouvard and Pecuchet become the ideal precursors of the postmodernist writer who “can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any of them” (Irnage 146). The formal linking of history and fiction through the common denominators of intertextuality and narrativity is usually offered not as a reduction, as a shrinking of the scope and value of fiction, but rather as an expansion of these.
Or, if it is seen as a limitation-restricted to the always already narrated-this tends to be made into the primary value, as it is in Lyotard’s “pagan vision,” wherein no one ever manages to be the first to narrate anything, to be the origin of even her or his own narrative (78). Lyotard deliberately sets up this “limitation” as the opposite of what he calls the capitalist position of the writer as original creator, proprietor, and entrepreneur of her or his story.
Much postmodern writing shares this implied ideological critique of the assumptions underlying “romantic” concepts of author and text, and it is parodic intertextuality that is the major vehicle of that critique. Perhaps because parody itself has potentially contradictory ideological implications (as “authorized transgression,” it can be seen as both conservative and revolutionary [Hutcheon 69-83]), it is a perfect mode of criticism for postmodernism, itself paradoxical in its conservative installing and then radical contesting of conventions.
Historiographic metafictions, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drurn, or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (which uses both of the former as intertexts), employ parody not only to restore history and memory in the face of the distortions of the “history of forgetting” (Thiher 11 LINDA HUTCHEON 202), but also, at the same time, to put into question the authority of any act of writing by locating the discourses of both history and fiction within an ever-expanding intertextual network that mocks any notion of either single origin or simple causality.
When linked with satire, as in the work of Vonnegut, V. Vampilov, Christa Wolf, or Coover, parody can certainly take on more precisely ideological dimensions. Here, too, however, there is no direct intervention in the world: this is writing working through other writing, other textualizations of experience (Said Beginnings 237).
In many cases intertextuality may well be too limited a term to describe this process; interdiscursivity would perhaps be a more accurate term for the collective modes of discourse from which the postmodern parodically draws: literature, visual arts, history, biography, theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, sociology, and the list could go on.
One of the effects of this discursive pluralizing is that the (perhaps illusory but once firm and single) center of both historical and fictive narrative is dispersed. Margins and edges gain new value. The “ex-centric”-as both off-center and de-centeredgets attention. That which is “different” is valorized in opposition both to elitist, alienated “otherness” and also to the uniformizing impulse of mass culture. And in American postmodernism, the “different” comes to be defined in particularizing terms such as those of nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Intertextual parody of canonical classics is one mode of reappropriating and reformulating-with significant changes-the dominant white, male, middle-class, European culture. It does not reject it, for it cannot. It signals its dependence by its use of the canon, but asserts its rebellion through ironic abuse of it.
As Edward Said has been arguing recently (“Culture”), there is a relationship of mutual interdependence between the histories of the dominators and the dominated. American fiction since the sixties has been, as described by Malcolm Bradbury (186), particularly obsessed with its own pastliterary, social, and historical.
Perhaps this preoccupation is (or was) tied in part to a need to fmd a particularly American voice within a culturally dominant Eurocentric tradition (D’haen 216). The United States (like the rest of North and South America) is a land of immigration. In E. L. Doctorow’s words, “We derive enormously, of course, from Europe, and that’s part of what Ragtime is about: the means by which we began literally, physically to lift European art and architecture and bring it over here” (in Trenner 58).
This is also part of what American historiographic metafiction in general is “about. ” Critics have discussed at length the parodic 12 HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTION intertexts of the work of Thomas Pynchon, including Conrad’s Heart ofDarkness (McHale 88) and Proust’s first-person confessional form (Patteson 37-38) in V. In particular, The Crying of Lot 49 has been seen as directly linking the literary parody ofJacobean drama with the selectivity and subjectivity of what we deem historical “fact” (Bennett).
Here the postmodern parody operates in much the same way as it did in the literature of the seventeenth century, and in both Pynchon’s novel and the plays he parodies (John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, John Webster’s The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, and Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, among others), the intertextual “received discourse” is firmly embedded in a social commentary about the loss of relevance of traditional values in contemporary life (Bennett).
Just as powerful and even more outrageous, perhaps, is the parody of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Ishmael Reed’s The Terrible Twos, where political satire and parody meet to attack white Euro-centered ideologies of domination. Its structure of “A Past Christmas” and “A Future Christmas” prepares us for its initial Dickensian invocations-first through metaphor (“Money is as tight as Scrooge” ) and then directly: “Ebenezer Scrooge towers above the Washington skyline, rubbing his hands and greedily peering over his spectacles” (4).
Scrooge is not a character, but a guiding spirit of 1980 America, one that attends the inauguration of the president that year. The novel proceeds to update Dickens’ tale. However, the rich are still cozy and comfortable (“Regardless of how high inflation remains, the wealthy will have any kind of Christmas they desire, a spokesman for Neiman-Marcus announces” ); the poor are not. This is the 1980 replay of “Scrooge’s winter, ‘as mean as ajunkyard dog” (32).
The “Future Christmas” takes place after monopoly capitalism has literally captured Christmas following a court decision which has granted exclusive rights to Santa Claus to one person and one company. One strand of the complex plot continues the Dickensian intertext: the American president-a vacuous, alcoholic, ex-(male) model-is reformed by a visit from St. Nicholas, who takes him on a trip through hell, playing Virgil to his Dante. There he meets past presidents and other politicians, whose punishments (as in the Inferno) conform to their crimes.
Made a new man from this experience, the president spends Christmas Day with his black butler, John, and John’S crippled grandson. Though unnamed, this Tiny Tim ironically outsentimentalizes Dickens’: he has a leg amputated; he is black; his parents died in a car accident. In an attempt to save the nation, the president goes on televi13 LINDA HUTCHEON sian to announce: “The problems of American society will not go away … by invoking Scroogelike attitudes against the poor or saying humbug to the old and to the underprivileged” (158).
But the final echoes of the Dickens intertext are ultimately ironic: the president is declared unfit to serve (because of his televised message) and is hospitalized by the business interests which really run the government. None of Dickens’ optimism remains in this bleak satiric vision of the future. Similarly, in Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, Reed parodically inverts Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” in order to subvert the authority of social, moral, and literary order.
No work of the Western humanist tradition seems safe from postmodern intertextual citation and contestation today: in Heller’s God Knows even the sacred texts of the Bible are subject to both validation and demystification. It is significant that the intertexts ofJohn Barth’s LETTERS include not only the British eighteenth-century epistolary novel, Don Quixote, and other European works by H. G. Wells, Mann, and Joyce, but also texts by Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and James Fenimore Cooper.
The specifically American past is as much a part of defining “difference” for contemporary American postmodernism as is the European past. The same parodic mix of authority and transgression, use and abuse characterizes intra-American intertextuality. For instance, Pynchon’s V. and Morrison’s Song of Solomon, in different ways, parody both the structures and theme of the recoverability of history in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!.
Similarly, Doctorow’s Lives of the Poets (1984) both installs and subverts Philip Roth’s My Life as a Man and Saul Bellow’s Herzog (Levine 80). The parodic references to the earlier, nineteenth-century or classic American literature are perhaps even more complex, however, since there is a long (and related) tradition of the interaction of fiction and history in, for example, Hawthorne’s use of the conventions of romance to connect the historical past and the writing present.
And indeed Hawthorne’s fiction is a familiar postmodern intertext: The Blithedale Romance and Barth’s The Floating Opera share the same moral preoccupation with the consequences of writers taking aesthetic distance from life, but it is the difference in their structural forms (Barth’s novel is more self-consciously metafictional [Christensen 12]) that points the reader to the real irony of the conjunction of the ethical issue. The canonical texts of the American tradition are both undermined and yet drawn upon, for parody is the paradoxical postmodern way of coming to terms with the past.