Academic journal article Style

From Cultural Provocation to Narrative Cooperation: Innovative Uses of the Second-Person in Raymond Federman's Fiction

Academic journal article Style

From Cultural Provocation to Narrative Cooperation: Innovative Uses of the Second-Person in Raymond Federman's Fiction

Article excerpt

All narration, whether historical or fictional, is the fruition of an act, all stories are products of labor; one "does history" the same way one does literature, and that act of doing (poiesis) belongs to somebody, implicates a productive agent operating under particular circumstances according to specific modalities which leave their imprint on what is being produced. That is to say, history is necessarily historiography: it is written and, as such, unfolds as a discourse, charged with intentions and aimed at producing certain effects....

(Bleikasten 9)

As for the second person, the one who suffers of paranoia, the gambler, the one who has decided to lock himself in the room for 365 days, his task is much more difficult than that of the first person.... The [hero] is nothing in the double setup, the interplay between the first and the second person; as a matter of fact, unless the second person invents him, and the first person records him, he will never become anything....

(Federman, Double or Nothing 000, 00000)


The recreative project of contemporary innovative fiction is nowhere more evident than in its approach to history. It has been argued that the great historical "metarecits" of rationality, revolution, and democracy have been seriously challenged by the events of this century: Auschwitz, the Stalinist gulags, various forms of total statehood (Lyotard, "Discussion"). But does this mean that postmodern fiction must move beyond "history," abdicating any attempt to articulate and explain the past? Postmodernity no longer believes in "a possible rational course of history" or in a "unified point of view on history" (Vattimo 133); but is this tantamount with saying that we have witnessed the "end of history"? Both Jean-Francois Lyotard and Gianni Vattimo tend to answer affirmatively, arguing that since historiography has become virtually impossible, "we no longer live" or think historically (Vattimo 134). My understanding of this idea is somewhat different: what has ended is not our capacity to experience and think historically, but rather our view of history "as a unitary and continuous course of events" (Vattimo 134), "objectively" given outside the accounts that represent it. The traditional metanarratives of history may be irredeemably compromised, but other "lesser narratives" have emerged in their place with often more parochial and self-serving agendas tied to nationalistic, ethnic, or corporate interests. A critical focus on the narrative and ideological articulations of history is, therefore, even more useful today as cultures become divided by contending "petits recits." Postmodernism can provide that critical understanding, disclosing the subtle connections between our narrative explanations of "history" and the "centers of power ... that collect and order information about what is going on" (Vattimo 134). But it can also offer rewritings of history around more imaginative, open-ended narrative modes.

The best work of Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, Raymond Federman, Marianne Hauser, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Ronald Sukenick, Kurt Vonnegut, Shirley Ann Williams - to name but a few - provides both a critique and an imaginative revision, simultaneously recreating what Vattimo calls "a history of Being," a "desacralized" ontology of events (139, 140), and reflecting upon the narrative-explanatory models that culture uses to organize knowledge about itself. The main emphasis in this historical rereading may fall alternatively on the critical-deconstructive and the revisionistic task. For example, Pynchon's V and Vineland, DeLillo's Libra, and Reed's Mumbo Jumbo foreground critically the processes that articulate and reorder history in ways that suppress human potentiality or cultural difference. On the other hand, Federman's The Twofold Vibration, Morrison's Sula, Sukenick's 98.6 adopt an "exploratory or better yet extemporaneous" form of historical (re)writing, approaching self and humanity "from a potential point of view, preremembering the future rather than remembering the past" (The Twofold Vibration 1-2). …

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