By Robert Boyers
Operating intentionally opposed to the grain of assumptions dominant within the modern literary academy, Boyers examines novels through Günter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Milan Kundera and others, arguing that it is important to talk of personality, ethics, and philosophic function if one is to appreciate those works. A penetrating examine, Atrocity and Amnesia illuminates a few of the significant fiction of our time and makes an enormous contribution to modern political suggestion.
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Additional info for Atrocity and Amnesia: The Political Novel since 1945
Obviously, the very notion of an absent cause indicates that while a novel may put us in touch with what we need to know, it will never fully embody that knowledge. This is not a matter of language, of the novel's failing to find the right words to say what it knows. We have an absent cause because the forces that together produce the dominant modes of behavior and of production within a society are resistant to the reductions in scale and diversity that an organized narrative will require. We have said, all the same, that we may know the absent cause and that we are put in touch with it by major political novels; and, we may add, we can know it only by the appeal such novels may make to the political unconscious.
As we follow the novel's developing contrast between East and West, we superimpose on our experience of the present narrative the master narrative, in terms of which mutual understanding between alien cultures is made possible by their respective efforts to get rid of outworn insular habits. The absent cause, we may say, is suggested by the refusal of the Conradian fiction to conform neatly to the proto-narrative from which it might well have drawn its impetus and its form. But let us try this again.
Perhaps ethical thought does project "as permanent features of human 'experience', and thus as a kind of 'wisdom' about personal life and interpersonal relations, what are in reality the historical and institutional specifics of a determinate type of group solidarity or class cohesion";10 but the political novelist characteristically shows that certain ethical standards may be extended to other groups and classes without making them lose sight of their long-term interests, revolutionary though they may be.