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THE COMPAKATIST THE CASE OF THE FABRICATED FACTS: HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION IN FAULKNER'SABSALOM, ABSALOM! AND VARGAS LLOSA'S HISTORIA DE MAYTA Deborah Cohn The actual past is gone; and the world ofhistory is an intangibL· world, recreated imaginatively, and present in our minds. — Carl Becker In 1959, the Cuban Revolution ushered in a new era in Latin American poUtics and Ufe. What took place on a smaU island in the Caribbean became a beacon, a source of hope for change and renewal for nations that had struggled with the legacy of postcoloniahsm since independence . Exactly a century before, in the U.S. South, another war had put an end to a way ofUfe that had ordered society for many years. The plantation system was delegitimized, and the downfaU of an economic order was accompanied by the breakdown of estabhshed modes of race and class relations. The ensuing transitions in both regions have been fraught with upheaval, though. Many southerners channeled their resentment of the North's reconstruction of their way of Ufe into an apotheosis ofplantation society that emblematized their efforts to retain their privüeges. And although Cuba sparked a flame throughout Latin America, it graduaUy became apparent that improvements in social conditions had been attained at the expense of poUtical Uberty and inteUectual freedom. The changes accompanying the estabUshment of new orders have compounded and been compounded by racial and ethnic tensions, and by the difficulties of modernization, underdevelopment, and poverty, which have afflicted Latin America and the South alike. War, revolution, and their legacy lie at the heart of WilUam Faulkner 's Absalom, Absalom! and Mario Vargas Llosa's Historia de Mayta, along with the question ofhow the past is reconstructed and transmitted to the present. In the first part ofthis essay, I wiU examine how the two novels problematize historical discourse. My argument draws on and presupposes the recent critiques of the discourse, in particular those proferred by Hayden White and Louis Mink. Specifically, my premise is that Faulkner and Vargas Llosa explore (and explode) the commonaUties of historical and fictional discourse: they foreground the sense-making process inherent in both types of narrative, and how this teleological impetus shapes the interpretation and transmission of the past. Additionally , this discussion correlates the authors' historiographical concerns with the Uterary contexts which informed them. That is, I treat Absalom, Absalom! and Historia de Mayta as emblematic of, respectively , modernist and postmodernist modes ofrepresenting the past, and Vol. 21 (1997): 25 FAULKNERAND VARGAS LLOSA at the same time explore their divergences—particularly evident in Vargas Llosa's novel—from prevaüing attitudes towards history. The second part ofthis essay probes how the novels use the question and questioning ofhistory to explore regional issues. Faulkner uses the southern past to invoke what he considers invariable features of human behavior, and at the same time caUs attention to racism as a fact of life in the South. Vargas Llosa, in turn, moves from an examination of human mediation of historical discourse to a consideration of how the violence accompanying the dissemination ofsociaUsm has wrought havoc throughout Latin America. The critiques that the novels offer ofThomas Sutpen and Alejandro Mayta's great projects and even grander failures are thus directed primarily at social and political issues which have carried over into the narrative present from the period being reconstructed . The southerner once declared that there is "no such thing as a regional writer, the writer simply uses the terms he is famiUar with best" (Faulkner in the University 95). I hope to ülustrate how (Faulkner's assertions to the contrary notwithstanding) he and Vargas Llosa navigate between the universal and the particular, avaiUng themselves of the "terms" they know best, in order to address the difficulties assaulting their regions. This wiU show how their fictional treatment of historiography is inseparable from their concern with these problems. "What Happened": The Missing Plot, Multiple Narration, and the Historiographical Enterprise Absalom, Absalom! and Historia de Mayta are arranged as investigations into an incident that was a turning point in the past, yet which, years later, remains unexplained. Consequently, they alternate between two interwoven temporal and narrative planes. The work ofdetection or frame tale takes place...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 25-48
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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