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Allegories of Modernity, Geographies of Memory

By Seenhwa Jeon


This dissertation examines how postmodernist narratives of memory in Graham Swift's Waterland, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines retrieve the stories of those who have been lost or forgotten in official history and refigure the temporal and spatial imaginary in intertwining personal stories of crisis with public history through acts of remembering. Questioning the modernist ideology of progress based on the idea of linear sequence of time, the novels not only retrace the heterogeneous and discontinuous layers of stories overlooked or repressed in official accounts of modern history, but also re-examine the contradictory and contested process by which subjects are situated or positioned, and its effects on the production of knowledge. These postmodern historical novels examine history as a discourse and explore its limits. The narrators of the novels are engaged with an autobiographical act of rewriting their lives, but their efforts to reconstitute themselves in unity and continuity are undermined by the disjunctive narrative form of the novels. The layered narrative of memory through which the novels reconstruct modern history is allegorical in the double sense that it exposes the act of signification by decentering the symbol of the transcendental signifier while telling an allegorical story of personal and familial history that mirrors national history in a fragmented way. In Waterland, Tom Crick retells his personal and familial stories intertwined with local and national history as alternative history lessons and challenges the Idea of Progress by revisiting sites of traumatic memory. Midnight's Children constructs counter-stories of Post-Independence India as multiple alternatives to one official version of history and addresses the limits of history in terms of "a border zone of temporality." In The Shadow Lines, the narrator retells his family history as a story of borders through his struggle with gaps in official history and creates a national imaginary with mirror images and events. The postmodernist narrative of memory in these novels turns the time of the now into a time for the "past as to come," a time to detect the unrealized and unfulfilled possibilities of the past, through retellings of the past

Topics: memory, narrativity, temporality, spatiality, allegory, modern ideology of progress, modernity, postmodernity, postmodern historical fiction, postcolonial historical fiction
Year: 2012
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