By Theophilus Savvas (auth.)
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Extra info for American Postmodernist Fiction and the Past
Nixon had dominated the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) after joining it in 1947, proving crucial in the Klaus Fuchs and Alger Hiss trials, and on 2 February 1950 had delivered a potent one-and-a-half-hour speech on the House floor which assailed Truman for not bringing to public attention the communist ‘conspiracy’ within his administration. Crucially, as historian Lisle A. 16 No wonder, then, that Nixon in the novel sees himself as: somehow the author of it [the trial]—not the words so much, for these were, in a sense, improvisations, but rather of the style of the ‘Nothing but words’ 23 performances, as though I had through my own public appearances created the audience expectations, set the standards, keyed the rhetoric, crystallized the roles, in order that my generation might witness in dramatic form the fundamental controversy of our time!
Michel Foucault elaborates in his ‘The Spectacle of the Scaffold’ (from Discipline and Punish), where he stresses the importance of the presence of the public in executions for ‘not only must people know, they must see with their own eyes. 31 Nixon, with one foot in the crowd, and one in the government, hence believes that Justice Douglas’s granting of a stay of execution was ‘goddamn disrespectful of the wishes and wisdom of the American people’ (Public Burning 115). Here it is not easy to gauge the target of Coover’s satire.
For Nixon, by enacting history as spectacular entertainment, by choosing to permanently don the mask of the public clown, willingly embraces his scripted state as a way of finally abnegating his moral duty. Through a belief in determinism, as Berlin puts it: we escape moral dilemmas by denying their reality; and by directing our gaze towards the greater wholes, we make them responsible in our place. All we lose is an illusion [the illusion of freedom] and with it the painful and superfluous emotions of guilt and remorse.
American Postmodernist Fiction and the Past by Theophilus Savvas (auth.)