FuturityContemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past

FuturityContemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past

Amir Eshel

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226924953

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

When looking at how trauma is represented in literature and the arts, we tend to focus on the weight of the past. This book suggests that this retrospective gaze has trapped us in a search for reason in the madness of the twentieth century's catastrophes at the expense of literature's prospective vision. Considering several key literary works, the book argues that by grappling with watershed events of modernity, these works display a future-centric engagement with the past that opens up the present to new political, cultural, and ethical possibilities—what it calls futurity. Bringing together postwar German, Israeli, and Anglo-American literature, the book traces a shared trajectory of futurity in world literature. It begins by examining German works of fiction and the debates they spurred over the future character of Germany's public sphere. Turning to literary works by Jewish-Israeli writers as they revisit Israel's political birth, the book shows how these stories inspired a powerful reconsideration of Israel's identity. It then discusses post-1989 literature—from Ian McEwan's Black Dogs to J. M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Yearr—revealing how these books turn to events such as World War II and the Iraq War not simply to make sense of the past but to contemplate the political and intellectual horizon that emerged after 1989. Bringing to light how reflections on the past create tools for the future, the book reminds us of the numerous possibilities literature holds for grappling with the challenges of both today and tomorrow.