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Con-scripting the masses: False documents and historical revisionism in the Americas

Frans-Stephen Weiser, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Dominick LaCapra argues that historians continue to interpret legal documents in a hierarchical fashion that marginalizes intellectual history, as fiction is perceived to be less important. This dissertation analyzes contemporary literary texts in the Americas that exploit such a narrow reading of documents in order to interrogate the way official history is constructed by introducing false forms of documents into their narratives. This type of literary text, or what I label “con-script,” is not only historical fiction, but also historicized fiction that problematizes its own historical construction. Many critics propose that the new historical novel revises historical interpretation, but there exists a gap between theory and textual practice. Adapted from E.L. Doctorow's notion of “false documents,” the con-script acts as an alternative that purposefully confuses fiction and nonfiction, providing tools to critically examine the authority maintained by official narratives. By revealing the fictive nature of these constructions, the con-script alerts readers to the manipulation of documents to maintain political authority and to misrepresent or silence marginalized groups. The recent revision of American Studies to include a hemispheric or Inter-American scope provides a context for applying such political claims within a transcultural framework. I compare texts from English, Spanish, and Portuguese America in order to identify shared strategies. After a survey of the historical novel's development across the Americas and a critical theory overview, I analyze three types of con-script. “The Art of Con-Fessing” juxtaposes texts from the three languages via Jay Cantor's The Death of Che Guevara, Augusto Roa Basto's Yo el Supremo, and Silviano Santiago's Em Liberdade. These false documents present themselves as apocryphal diaries written by revolutionary leaders or activists. The authors demythologize untouchable public figures through the gaps in their “own” personal writing. “Mediations of Media” features Ivan Ângelo's A Festa, Tomás Eloy Martínez's La novela de Perón, and Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo. These journalists interrogate the role of media and political corruption within the construction of national identity; the false documents appear as newspaper clippings, magazine articles and media images. Finally, the subjective process of archiving is examined in “Con-Centering the Archive” via Aguinaldo Silva's No País das Sombras, Francisco Simón's El informe Mancini, and Susan Daitch's L.C.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Latin American literature|American studies

Recommended Citation

Weiser, Frans-Stephen, "Con-scripting the masses: False documents and historical revisionism in the Americas" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3445197.