Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America

By Adam Zachary Newton | Go to book overview

3
“Words generally spoil things” and “Giving
a man final say”: facing history in David
Bradley and Philip Roth

He wonders also about himself—that he cannot learn to forget, but hangs on to the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him. It is a matter for wonder: the moment that is here and gone, that was nothing before and nothing after, returns like a specter to trouble the quiet of a later moment. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History

Submitting history as a whole to judgment, exterior to the very wars that mark its end restores to each instant its full signification in that very instant; all causes are ready to be heard. It is not the last judgment that is decisive, but the judgment of all the instants in time, when the living are judged. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity

Question: when does an “incident” coincide with an “operation?” Answer: when a free and unreconstructed event in human experience gets smuggled and/or indentured into plot. Differently put, History entails Reconstruction, as Reconstruction, in some part at least, requires Fabulation.

Late in his narrative—after having previously defined “incident” as fact simply stated, “apparently free of any cause” (223)—the narrator-cum-historian-protagonist of David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident appeals to Newtonian principles of causality to frame such apparent freedom in new perspective:

… every event has a preceding cause and a proceeding effect. To that assumption there are two major corollaries. First, that every event was discrete: separate and, given sufficient accuracy of measuring instruments, separately visible from both cause and effect. (In historical terms, this means that it occurs at a specific point in time, that it can be dated—that it is, in other words, an

-81-

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