By Theophilus Savvas (auth.)
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Reading the novel in this way allows us to understand how Nixon can appear at once repulsed by, and yet strangely drawn to, the Rosenbergs. It is, I would suggest, the mythical Rosenbergs, those constructions that symbolise everything he as a good American distrusts, which Nixon abhors, but it is the historical Rosenbergs whose lives he researches, and draws, often as perverted parallels of his own, to which he, in his selfconfessed status as an outsider, feels a certain empathy. Hence he notes 32 American Postmodernist Fiction and the Past the similarity between the ‘things we’d learned in the thud and blunder of college politics, Julius and I.
Perhaps now we can read an undercurrent in the text which suggests that the Watergate trial became Nixon’s own ‘public burning’. 37 If Nixon’s casual comparisons to the Rosenbergs have some validity, one of the ways in which he attempts to differentiate himself, and the American system, from their way of thinking is noteworthy because of the way in which Coover’s text undermines it. For Nixon ‘the difference between us and the Socialists [is that] our central idea is to look for what works in an essentially open-ended situation; theirs is what’s necessary in some kind of universal and inevitable history’ (Public Burning 407).
Libra suggests that the use of the past in postmodernist fictions can work as a vigorous and strategic acknowledgement of the fictions necessary for history (as the ‘realist’ epistemology of the past) to function. History is possible because of fictions, just as a fiction such as DeLillo’s is possible because of history (as the past’s representative). L. Doctorow’s, who writes, as we shall see, that history and fiction are indistinguishable, that there is, indeed, ‘only narrative’. Nevertheless, DeLillo’s book still suggests that the hauntings, to adapt Michel de Certeau’s coinage, of each by the other, of fiction by history and history by fiction, mean that distinguishing between the two, in the postmodern age at least, is not always possible and not always consoling.