Autocritique in the Contemporary Weather Underground Novel

Print Friendly

Print Friendly

Jay Cantor begins The Space Between, his 1981 collection of essays on politics and fiction, with a personal reflection on the evolution of his own reading and writing practices: "In the late 1960s," he recalls, "I like so many people wanted a political literature, and wanted to read literature politically."1But looking back, Cantor is struck by the limitations of this way of thinking. To judge literature purely by its political content meant only ever finding in the work confirmation or elaboration of a knowledge that the reader already possessed.2 What his politically instrumental reading and writing practice had failed to recognize, Cantor decides, is art's capacity to function as political praxis. He concludes, "I had begun by looking for a way to read and to write politically ... But what I found was not a new idea of art so much as a new conception of politics."3 In the early years of Reagan's administration, Cantor was hardly alone in his pivot, which amounted to no less than a turn away from a politics of revolutionary collective action to a politics of cultural resistance.4 This turn was premised on the idea that "art" and "politics" are merely two ways of designating the same process of shaping social reality through the manipulation of symbols, an idea which, once accepted, entailed rejecting the distinction between art as the organization of symbols and politics as the mobilization of bodies. The resulting cultural politics resuscitated a version of the old concept of literature as a form of poiesis, in which making art was necessarily a political act because the work of art always refashioned the world by its very existence. Indeed, Cantor writes in The Space Between that "art is constitutive of the world at every point," because the activities which produce our material existence are all fundamentally symbolic activities: "politics, work, all human culture is symbol formation, is poetry."5 Within Cantor's own body of work, the consequences of this conclusion are evident in the difference between the psychological realism and concern for radical activism of The Death of Che Guevara (1983), and the pop-cultural concerns and metafictional experiments of Krazy Kat: A Novel in Five Panels (1988). In this progression, we see reproduced in miniature the supersession of social realism by formalist experimentation in the American political novel, a process made easier by the argument that the physical violence of armed revolution and the subversive logic of the weekly comic strip coexist within a single politico-aesthetic discourse. Simply put, in narrating Cantor's personal working-out of the relation between art and politics that is to say, not a relation at all, but an absolute identity The Space Between offers a crucial insight into the formation of the postmodern political imagination.

If the substance of Cantor's claims about art and politics seem somewhat dogmatic, the arc of his personal narrative suggests that the relation between them is historically contingent. In Cantor's retrospective self-critique, we catch a glimpse of the process through which artists in the revolutionary 1960s and the reactionary 1980s theorized their aesthetic practices according to their respective political needs. This historical contingency would not cease with the so-called End of History, as the '80s came to a close. Instead, the exhaustion of postmodernist formalism at the end of the 20th century presented an occasion within the mainstream of U.S. literary production for rethinking once again the relationship between politics and art. The emergence in the mid-1990s of authors such as David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen posed a direct challenge to the dominant, postmodernist cultural practice of "ironic watching" and embraced a politics of New Sincerity.6 At the same time, figures such as Richard Powers and William T. Vollmann wrote fiction that pointed beyond its own textual horizons to a concrete world of biological and historical reality. Anticipating the post-9/11 novel, these texts also gestured toward a post-postmodern conceptualization of art and politics toward a means, as Peter Boxall puts it, of "wak[ing] from [literature's] ethical and political slumber."7 The first decades of the 21st century have only seen this political reawakening accelerate, with the rise in U.S. fiction of a new geopolitical novel that, as Caren Irr writes, "directly addresses questions of collective identity and power, appropriate means of collective action, and the struggle to articulate ideals and goals that orient action."8 Together, these trends suggest a convergence between a U.S. literary culture no longer dominated (either commercially or critically) by postmodernist formalism and what Michael Denning has called the "novelists' international," an outgrowth of proletarian social realism written in service of anti-colonial and postcolonial struggles across the global south.9 In short, the contemporary U.S. novel conceptualizes a different identification of art with politics than did its postmodernist antecedents, just as postmodernism itself once transubstantiated the political commitments of its own literary precursors. Whether this reconceptualization means a rejection of postmodernism's sense of ironic critique, a re-commitment to some form of ontological, biophysical, or historical realism, or a re-engagement with more direct forms of political action, there is little doubt that "cultural resistance" no longer seems as politically sufficient as it once did.

One of the places where this dissatisfaction with the cultural turn appears most clearly is the recent interest, in American literature, in the political and social movements of the late 1960s and early '70s. If Cantor and other novelists could once look back on the radical '60s and conclude that art no longer needed to engage with mass political movements in order to be of political consequence, then works by contemporary writers, Cantor himself now among them, no longer seem to be taking this conclusion for granted. Instead, these recent novels find in the student movements, militant cadres, activist organizations, and counterculture communitarians of the '60s and '70s a means of raising questions about the place of old-fashioned collective action within the cultural politics of late capitalism. This essay briefly examines three such novels Cantor's Great Neck (2003), Russell Banks's The Darling (2004), and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document (2006) in an effort to understand how their narratives of Weather Underground revolutionaries-in-hiding reimagine the relation of the novel to political struggle. These works envision a pedagogical function for the novel drawn directly from the praxis of revolutionary politics. Rather than helping the reader to map the totalizing structures of global capital  as Fredric Jameson famously proposed as art's political function these works construct narrative models of revolutionary autocritique. The collective practice of ideological self-discipline and self-instruction common among radical organizations of the sixties and seventies, autocritique relies on retrospection, confession, and polyphony for the purpose of collective consciousness raising. In these novels, autocritical narrative form raises problems of collective identification by combining formal techniques associated with autocritique with a variety of models for rethinking individual and group identity (family, neighborhood, race, class, revolutionary party, generation, species). But the results of this project are ambivalent, as far as the radical politics of Weatherman are concerned. On the one hand, autocritical narrative form means that these works unfold as dialectics of critical self-reflection, as efforts to learn from past revolutionary movements by ruthlessly assessing where they failed and how they might have proceeded differently. At the same time, however, the risk of such critiques is that, in stripping a revolutionary politics of its apparently unworkable elements, they might sacrifice the radical spirit therein. Indeed, it is not always immediately obvious in what manner these novels' political imaginaries differ from a liberal commitment to reform over revolution. But by leaning in to this unresolvable tension between realism and utopianism, a tension inherent in any revolutionary project, they offer insight into the always unfinished process of fashioning a politics for the world to come. This process may and often does end in a failure to break free of the limits of the liberal political imagination. But, as the practice of autocritique promises, in failing, and failing again, the struggle to fashion such a politics creates the conditions of possibility for its own future success.

Constituting the Revolutionary Body

In March 1970, the leadership of the Weatherman, the militant antiwar faction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), found themselves in an ideologically precarious position. The Greenwich Village townhouse explosion on March 6, which killed three members of a Weatherman cell and injured two more, exposed the group's construction of crude shrapnel bombs for future use against human targets. Use of these devices would have represented a sharp divergence from previous Weatherman tactics, which had primarily focused on large-scale direct actions and planting explosives near non-human targets. The deaths of their comrades along with a growing sense that the group's anti-racist and anti-imperialist objectives would be undermined by tactics that risked civilian deaths motivated Weatherman members, now in hiding and referring to themselves as the Weather Underground Organization, to discuss the group's future. The result of this moment of self-reflection was an emphatic rejection of future violence against human targets, and a strategic pivot from armed insurrection to "armed propaganda" intended to expose white communities to the inherent violence of the system from which they benefited.10 While the ultimate goal of igniting an anti-imperialist revolution within the United States remained consistent, Weather's new revolutionary tactics would be more humane focused on producing public spectacles of pseudo-violence that reflected and emphasized the real violence of US military action, but always with safeguards in place to prevent human casualties.

In order to ensure that the future actions of individual cells aligned with the organization's evolving political analysis, Weather members turned to the autocritique session. An exercise designed to promote self-reflection, autocritique was adopted from Maoist parties in Vietnam and Cuba, and was popular with other New Left vanguardist groups, such as the Red Army Faction in West Germany, the Symbionese Liberation Army in the US, and the United Red Army in Japan. As practiced by Weather, autocritique was part of the dialectical process by which conditions of revolutionary possibility might be produced within a deeply non-revolutionary situation. For a group of middle-class and primarily white American college students seeking to spark a revolution on behalf of proletarian and non-white populations, this meant ruthlessly tearing down the psychological and ideological residues of their former bourgeois selves. Even apparent political victories, whether individual or collective, had to be challenged, questioned, and parsed for any remainder of counter-revolutionary potential.

By means of spontaneous collective dialogues that focused sometimes on communal failures and at other times on those of a single individual, Weather sought to put into practice Marx's notion of a revolution that unfolds through a series of cascading setbacks, false starts, failures, and disruptions. Because they must produce their own conditions of possibility, Marx declares in The 18th Brumaire, authentic proletarian revolutions must:

Criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic, before them, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible.11

When Lenin and Mao took up Marx's dialectical self-negation in their theories of the revolutionary party (as samokritika and jiǎntǎo, respectively), they reinterpreted it as a methodological prescription for revolutionaries to publicly name and critique their own and one another's political failures.12 Incorporated by Weather into their own praxis, the resulting concept of revolutionary autocritique finds paradoxically fertile ground in a lingering bourgeois sensibility already accustomed to religious autocritical practices such as Judaic vidui, Catholic confession, Quaker threshing, and Evangelical testimonial. Like any of these practices, the autocritique session draws its traumatic and transformative potential from latent tensions between individual and collective experience, and from the voluntary deconstruction and reconstruction of the self. Historian and activist Dan Berger writes that although Weather's autocritique sessions were intended "ostensibly to help people become better activists and human beings," testimony by many former members suggests that these sessions often "became a weapon ... of rigid discipline in the interest of smashing individualism."13 At the same time, however, Weather members themselves have produced a rich body of literature outlining the value of autocritique to the organization's efforts to develop a dynamic and self-reflective analysis of changing political conditions and revolutionary possibilities under late capitalism.14 In either case, critics and proponents of Weather's autocritique sessions agree that the public and messy work of self-criticism, both collective and individual, was crucial to transforming a bourgeois, democratic revolution into a properly proletarian one.

In this sense, the autocritique session entails a kind of practical commitment to reimagining the organization of social reality. The political function of autocritique is to serve as an example of what Alain Badiou calls "fidelity" to a revolutionary event, a "set of procedures which ... gather together and distinguish the becoming legal of a chance" to radically reorganize the structure of a situation.15 Fidelity, in Badiou's thought, names the process by which disparate elements coalesce into a new collective body by recognizing some hidden potential in the world for transformative change. Like the proletarian revolution giving birth to its own conditions of possibility, procedures of fidelity retroactively produce the very transformative event they name. From this perspective, autocritique is not simply a disciplinary mechanism for purging bourgeois tendencies from the revolution. It also forces to the center of Weather's self-organization the problem of how to suspend and preserve individual commitments within a universal political project.16 Consequently, the autocritique session marks the transformation of a collection of individual activists into a collective revolutionary body, and each faithful repetition of the transformative moment demonstrates this body's capacity for constant, democratic self-reinvention. Weather's pivot from armed insurrection to armed propaganda was intended to offer Americans a way of imagining an egalitarian, internationalist alternative to a liberal democratic system built on racism and imperialism. However, most of the propaganda spectacles organized by Weather in service of this goal staging violent confrontations with law enforcement, bombing the Pentagon, declaring "war" on the US government simply sought to turn the symbolic logic of the imperialist state against itself. But Weather's adoption of autocritique as a central organizational principle gestured toward a form of self-organization that was, in contrast to the state, collectivist and radically egalitarian. As such, the group autocritique session, more than any public display of militant resistance, demonstrated the possibility of moving beyond the liberal democratic political imagination and experimenting with new kinds of social organization not premised on individualism and structural inequality.

Autocritique is thus essentially a narrative praxis. It operates by taking a particular set of individuals, institutions, experiences, and events that bourgeois society has invested with a particular social meaning and historical trajectory, and redistributing them in such a way that new meanings and histories can emerge. Simply put, autocritique continually re-narrates the relation of the individual to the social totality, unfolding as a cyclical deconstruction and reconstruction of individual self-consciousness. From this perspective, it becomes possible to conceptualize Weather's practice of autocritique as part of a pedagogical aesthetic that is distinct from, but deeply intertwined with, its revolutionary political agenda. In fact, the pedagogical work of inviting individuals to help shape a collective, emergent vision of social transformation best explains the proliferation in recent years of fiction revisiting the revolutionary movements of the late 1960s and early '70s. The autocritical process appears as a narrative tool in novels like Cantor's Great Neck, Banks's The Darling, and Spiotta's Eat the Document, all three of which are organized around tropes of critical self-reflection and group identification. By adopting narrative strategies that borrow from autocritique's emphasis on self-critical retrospection and self-identification with the collective body, these works reproduce for a new generation of politically-minded readers the problem of the revolution's collective self-organization, recasting political change as a problem of aesthetic form. In doing so, they seek to reimagine the pedagogical function of the political novel: not as programmatically reproducing ideological dogma, but as modeling a mode of collaborative inquiry capable of generating new kinds of collective knowledge, identity, and action.

Autocritique as Aesthetic Form

In their efforts to transform the American political imagination, contemporary Weather Underground novels must be read as part of an emerging literary reconsideration of the radical political legacy of the 1960s and '70s.  Beyond the Weather Underground novel, this project includes other works that look back at Vietnam-era experiments in collective organization and direct action works such as Susan Choi's American Woman (2003), T.C. Boyle's Drop City (2003), Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel (2010), Lauren Groff's Arcadia (2012), and Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens (2013). Within this larger body of work, however, the Weather Underground novels are set apart by their sustained investment in the aesthetics of autocritique.17

Two concepts from narrative theory can help to clarify this aesthetic: Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of a biographical chronotope, and Alan Palmer's notion of literary intermental thought. Together, Bakhtin and Palmer offer a set of tools for codifying critical self-reflection as a recognizable narrative form and for understanding how such forms might give expression to the problems of individual and collective self-identification. For Bakhtin, "chronotope" refers to the way literature organizes the interdependent elements of time and space.18 Because chronotopes are distinguished from one another by their different distributions of space and time, they form the foundation of Bakhtin's theory of generic categories. Significantly, Bakhtin argues that the biographical chronotope is generally characterized by an internal struggle to pass "from self-confident ignorance, through self-critical skepticism, to self-knowledge and ultimately authentic knowing."19 Under certain circumstances, however, this narrative structure is externalized as a public, communal struggle in which the "self-consciousness of an individual and his life was first laid bare and shaped in the public square."20 The resulting spatial displacement of biographical time reimagines self-consciousness as a dialectical negotiation between individual and collective identity. Confronted with the problem of capturing the "public nature" of "the unity of a man's externalized wholeness," biographical narratives develop increasingly sophisticated "forms for depicting the public self-consciousness of a man."21 Consequently, biographical time in the modern novel organizes narrative performances of critical self-reflection by means of complex interactions between generic forms (such as the confessional or reflective posture of an autobiographical passage), temporal structures (such as prolepsis or parataxis), and tropes of publicity (confessing to or reflecting in conversation with a community).

The biographical chronotope establishes the "shifting about in time" of the "instancing" of character as a formal precondition for narratives of self-critical retrospection. As such, it offers a useful starting point for thinking about what an aesthetics of autocritique might look like in literary form.22 But since revolutionary autocritique is a group practice, it is necessary to ask what kinds of new formal considerations emerge when the narrative subject of biographical time is not individual but collective. Alan Palmer's notion of literary intermental cognition serves as a useful supplement to Bakhtin in this regard. Initially developed in order to describe moments of collective agency in the bourgeois realist novel, intermental cognition also offers a means of conceptualizing public self-reflection as part of an emerging collective self-consciousness. Arguing that theories of character in the novel have historically assumed the individual mind to be the primary subject of literary cognition, Palmer suggests that an entirely separate, largely unrecognized category of thinking "joint, group, shared, or collective" thought performed by "large organizations, small groups, work colleagues, friends, families, couples, and other intermental units" exists in novels, complete with its own narrative logic and modes of representation.23 Intermental cognition, as Palmer describes this category of novelistic discourse, includes a range of group thought: from instances of temporary thinking-together that manifest in conversations between individual characters to the more persistent structures of collective cognition that appear in the form of prevailing social attitudes, collaborative decision-making processes, and general self-characterizations of communities, corporations, ethnicities, and other groups.24 Palmer identifies four primary rhetorical devices for directly or indirectly representing the collective mind of a social group. The most unambiguous is "explicit reference to the main ... group," but Palmer also suggests that "hypothetical groups, the passive voice, and presupposition" can reflect, under certain circumstances, processes of intermental cognition.25 In bourgeois realist novels such as Middlemarch, Palmer's primary example, these narrative tools construct the background of social consensus, in tension with which the singular mind operates. But for the novel whose pedagogical function is to explore new kinds of collective identity, this relation is upended, as the processes of intermental cognition themselves emerge into the narrative foreground. Far from constituting a backdrop for the development of the individual protagonist, the rhetorical devices of intermental cognition offer a means of placing different kinds of collective subjectivities at the center of the novel.

In their exploration of such collectives, the narratives of Great Neck, The Darling, and Eat the Document are all propelled by the same engine of historical conflict. They are all structured around the reflections of former militant activists on the promises and failures of revolutionary politics in the 1970s. Great Neck unfolds as a series of narrative flashbacks loosely organized around the trial of unrepentant Weather member Beth Jacobs for her involvement in an anti-war bombing and armed robbery. It also follows a group of her childhood friends as they struggle to reconcile their own post-New Left lives with the original commitment to social justice that first bound them together. Similarly, Eat the Document moves back and forth between revolutionaries Mary Whittaker and Bobby DeSoto as they go underground after an anti-war bombing in 1972, and a new generation of young radicals in the 1990s looking for an American tradition of radical politics that could challenge rising globalization, consumerism, and environmental exploitation. In a more straightforward performance of critical self-reflection, The Darling follows middle-aged, former Weather member Hannah Musgrave as she revisits her feminist farming collective in upstate New York. She returns from a trip to Liberia, where she sought the three sons she gave birth to and abandoned there after fleeing federal agents in the U.S., having finally confronted there the inadequacy of ideological dogma to the complex social, economic, and ecological realities of American imperial power. Significantly, each of these works anchors its autocritical narrative in easily recognizable representations of New Left figures and actions. Through her involvement with the Black Liberation Army's 1981 Brink's robbery, Great Neck's Beth seems to be closely modeled on Kathy Boudin. Eat the Document's Mary is frequently mistaken by other characters in the novel for Bernardine Dohrn.26 To a lesser extent, Great Neck's Snake and Eat the Document's Bobby draw on David Gilbert and Bill Ayers, respectively, especially in their relation to the female militants who dominate these narratives. The Darling's Hannah lacks any obvious historical analogue, but her political development joining SCLC and SANE as a student at Brandeis, dropping out Harvard Medical School to organize with SDS, and, finally, becoming involved with Weatherman and militant action reflects an arc of radicalization followed by the hundreds of low- and mid-level Weather members who constituted, in Hannah's description of herself, the movement's "workers" rather than its "leaders."27

In spite of sharing a narrative conflict and a common archive of cultural images and ambivalent attitudes towards Weatherman, these novels organize their materials according to temporal regimes of varying degrees of complexity. The Darling situates its narrative within a minimalist frame, in which Hannah is telling an unidentified listener about her failed trip to Liberia. Within this conversational frame, the narrative unfolds as a more-or-less linear progression of memories representing her participation in Weatherman and subsequent life on the run in Liberia, where she marries a mid-level official in Samuel Doe's government, has three sons with him, and then watches the murder of her husband and the abduction of her sons during Charles Taylor's US-supported civil war. She then returns to the US to find her past crimes largely forgotten. By contrast, Great Neck adopts a complicated series of temporal leaps and switchbacks, dividing its narrative into four sections set in 1978, 1980, 1981, and 1982. In addition to containing their own action, each of these sections recalls earlier events in the protagonist's life: Beth and her friends' original commitment to social justice in 1960-64, Beth's radicalization as the others pursue various non-revolutionary tactics in 1965-70, Beth's temporary reappearance from the underground in 1980, and Beth's participation in the Brink's truck robbery in 1981. Straddling the difference between these two extremes of temporal complexity, Eat the Document follows former revolutionaries Mary and Bobby, now separated and living underground under the names Louise and Nash. The narrative moves back and forth between their lives in 1990s Seattle and the moments immediately prior to and following their going into hiding in the early 1970s, while also following two other characters Louise's biological son Jason and Nash's ideological heir Miranda who reflect with nostalgia on the political culture of the 1970s from their perspective in the 1990s.

These disruptions of linear time are formalized through a variety of narrative devices and tropes. The Darling appears as a single extended confession to a present but unidentified listener. Eat the Document incorporates diary entries, dream memories, corporate presentations, and descriptions of fictional documentary footage. Great Neck alternates between an uncomplicated realism to describe the narrative present and a fantastic and hyper-stylized narration-via-comicbook-captions (sans images) for past moments of revolutionary violence. These devices allow the Weather Underground novel to represent the willing self-fragmentation that constitutes the process of going underground, of constructing and inhabiting a new identity so thoroughly that the old one disappears. But they also represent various means of formalizing autocritique, splitting (often literally) characters into discrete moments of self-consciousness capable of reflecting on and critiquing their other selves. Great Neck's psychoanalyst Laura, for instance, both does and does not share a "self" with her characterization as "SheWolf, a lithe magician, who can show her victims hologram hallucinations of their screaming fears and va-voom desires."28 The psychological and narrative splitting of Laura's character and, in a similar fashion, of all of the core characters who receive corresponding comic-book characterizations is reproduced in the typographical design of the text, which marks the transition to the allegorical space of the comic-book narrative by adopting a bold, sans-serif casual script intended to mimic hand-lettering. This design element is more than a typographic marker of narrative space, however; it also highlights the fact that these comics are physical artifacts in the world of the narrative, and that Laura must constantly read herself into SheWolf. In other words, it is Laura herself as a reader, not the comic artist, who sustains the identity between Laura and SheWolf. But as a result of this ambiguous difference, Laura's measured activism and liberal social conscience both critiques and is critiqued by its juxtaposition with SheWolf's militant action and revolutionary zeal. Likewise, Eat the Document's suburban housewife Louise both is and is not the same person as radical filmmaker and bomber Mary or itinerant hippy Caroline, just as The Darling's underground revolutionary Hannah Musgrave is and is not the same person as American expatriate Dawn Carrington. For both narratives, the double-consciousness introduced by the adoption of an alternative identity becomes a way of holding a commitment to world-transformative activity alongside a tragic knowledge of the limitations of any such activity. Both are equal moments in a single narrative self-consciousness, which does not necessarily privilege one over the other.

In addition to establishing critical self-reflection as the dominant narrative chronotope, these kinds of retrospective temporalities also lend themselves to experimentation with different orders of collective identification and organization. Remarking on Eat the Document's "cinematic structure and zigzagging viewpoints," Great Neck's nonlinear arrangement of "intense, disparate peak events," and The Darling's "retrospective" and "reflecting" emplotment, readers of the contemporary Weather Underground novel have consistently observed that these nonlinear temporal structures highlight tensions between individual and collective identity.29 When the individual self is split by the adoption of multiple discrete identities, the stable identity of the collective in the sense that Weatherman remains Weatherman regardless of the circulation of individual revolutionaries into or out of the organization becomes the primary source of characterological continuity. In this sense, at least, these novels resemble nothing so much as the radical collectivist novels written during the 1930s by figures such as Clara Weatherwax and William Rollins, Jr. Collective intermental units such as families, cadres, and communities can have a stable identity, even when the characters that make up these units do not. This explains why forms of intermental cognition have figured so prominently in the critical reception of these works: Daniela Daniele reads Eat the Document as a "silent dialogue" between "a radical loser and her son"; Mark Kamine writes that Great Neck's central characters constitute a "dense web"; Adam Begley suggests that the minds of Cantor's characters are "networked and engaged in furious serial processing"; and Aliki Varvogli interprets The Darling as an extended critique of two mythical stereotypes, the "loving, nurturing, nonthreatening" mother and the "radical fighter," each of whom loses her individual self in the collective identity of the family or the revolutionary party.30 Such readings emphasize the different kinds of intermental cognition that become available to the novel once the individual is no longer the primary subject of characterization. In doing so, they demonstrate how the contemporary Weather Underground novel does not treat dialogue and other forms of collective thinking simply as techniques for developing individual characters. Rather, these narrative tools become formal operations in which individual identity is dissolved and redistributed across a web or network of characters: a new collective body in the form of a revolutionary party, family, or group of childhood companions whose collective identity and characterization become the central concern of the narrative.

Toward a New Political Imagination

Great Neck critiques Weatherman's political legacy by presenting revolutionary militancy, not as a radical alternative to the spectrum of liberal responses to American racism and imperialism, but rather as an unwitting part of that spectrum as merely one of a set of practices and orientations available to middle-class white kids stricken with a social conscience. Essentially, there is no formal difference between Beth's experience of her political convictions and the experiences of any of her companions. Their individual careers as academic labor historian, prison psychoanalyst, public defense attorney, comic book illustrator, pop artist, and political revolutionary all represent equally faithful reactions to the shared adolescent nightmare that their common friend, murdered while volunteering in Mississippi with SNCC, is still tortured from beyond the grave by his failure to bring justice to the South. He is, they imagine him, "alive-yet-not-alive in his box, like a coma victim-cum-zombie, and his pain in the grave would be endless (how long?) unless his friends ... helped him out, doing holy actions that would raise his soul-spark back to its source."31 What does distinguish Beth's revolutionary calling from these other forms of "holy actions" is her sense of self-righteousness and exclusivity, her insistence on radicalism as the necessary condition for any authentic struggle for justice. Beth's total commitment to "the next, the necessary, the violent and irrevocable step that would bind them forever to their black and brown comrades" appears alongside the different commitments of her friends. Jesse desires to "protect others" as a public defender "because he had nothing else to offer them, no vision, no project, no strategy"; Arkey, an academic historian, is bitterly "faithful to long dead socialist organizations,"; and Laura's tries to get political prisoners to forego "tough talk" and "political mistakes" for "therapy" and "bottomless remorse ... that might satisfy the parole board" (GN, 695). The juxtaposition between Beth and the other characters both punctures the narrow self-regard of the militant radical and presents revolutionary fidelity as potentially compatible with other forms of (academic, judicial, psychiatric) commitments to social justice. In working out their own forms of fidelity to their shared injunction to "Make Justice," the parallel self-reflections of Laura, Arkey, and the others model a more coalitional form of politics than Weatherman was prepared to entertain.

The text's efforts to imagine collective self-identification reflect this yearning for a more coalitional or collaborative political body. Specifically, the novel achieves this vision by locating a single common event the formation of a communal body of shared grief and determination in the face of injustice as the source of revolutionary, reformist, and liberal approaches to social transformation. The novel cycles through several models of group identity from Arkey's self-mocking ethnic slogan "Join the Jews for a Larger Tribe and Better Spells," to Sugarcane and Jacob Battle's struggle to transform "the Negro community" into a self-reliant political force, to Jeffrey's experiments with radical self-negation in the New York S&M scene, and Beth's experience of maternal "venerandam" as a "place where you want to is the same as you have to ... which meant that Beth, where was she anymore?" (GN, 6, 131, 539). Together, these models serve to caricature the New Left's frequent difficulties in moving beyond a set of politically limiting cultural stereotypes (the self-hating Jew, the militant Black nationalist as criminal, the apolitical homosexual hedonist, the radical female who really just wants to be a mother). Instead, the children's shared precognition of Laura's brother Frank's murder in 1964 proves to be the only enduring foundation for a committed collective body capable of intermental cognition. Spending that summer waiting together in Laura's bedroom for news of missing Frank, the six form a single body, "sprawled with their limbs everywhichway, each leg with a teenage mind of its own ... rigid&soft&rigid with the alternating current of terror and hope" (GN, 211). This body is animated and defined by a single thought, that Frank was already dead, and that to champion justice in his name "would be like the healing surgeon's knife, separating his soul-fragments from the pain of his buried body" (GN, 220). This thought rises to the level of true intermental cognition as the common product of the children's individual self-reflections, a shared knowledge they can neither account for nor ignore. As Billy says, speaking for all of them, "I don't know how I know ... but I do know. I'm sorry. I don't want to know. But I do" (GN, 207).

By representing this early moment of collective grief and conviction as the common origin of Arkey's academic career and Jeffrey's participation in the Pop Art scene and Beth's militancy, the novel offers a new understanding of Weatherman's fidelity. In Great Neck, the revolution is not approaching but has already arrived, albeit not in the form of a militant overthrow of the political-economic system. Rather, the event that Weatherman, among others, declares and calls into being is the emergence of a new collective body, self-organized around a shared resistance to systemic social injustice (drawing on but also superseding models of family, ethnic, racial, class, and gender group identification). It is a body capable of self-reflection and committed to making transformative interventions in the world. Great Neck's critique attempts to separate Weatherman's revolutionary militancy from its transformative commitment. The former is an unnecessary and counterproductive addition to the latter, introducing a divisive and exclusive element to what is otherwise an inclusive and universal project. The group's impulse to make justice in a world defined by organized and systematic injustice can and must be separated from the group's commitment to revolutionary violence.

But Great Neck is, in many ways, the least politically radical of the three novels, and its critique is by no means conclusive. Indeed, The Darling's formal approach produces a very different critique and a very different vision of collective self-organization. Whereas critical reflection on Weatherman in Great Neck takes the form of Beth's friends reflecting on the limitations of "faithful[ness] to long dead socialist organizations" or "tough talk" without "remorse" for the consequences, The Darling's reflection upon and critique of the movement's legacy is left entirely up to alienated former members (GN, 4, 695). As a result, both the substance and the form of the critique differ from Great Neck in important ways. Accounting for the profound alienation that made emigrating to Africa so easy, Hannah describes the "crucial transition from radical activist to revolutionary" as a passage beyond which "you no longer question why you have no profession, no husband, no children, why you have no true friendsonly comrades and people who think they're your true friend but don't know your real name."32 Here there is no sense, as in Great Neck, that the transition to revolutionary represents a commitment to a universal moment of overpowering moral clarity, or that its result is a newly empowered collective body capable of intervening in the situation. If Weatherman represents an effort to imagine a new kind of collective politics, this effort is an utter failure that only reflects a more general social self-betrayal: "Christ, half of Weather and half the Panthers are FBI informers ... The Muslims killed Malcolm, and J. Edgar Hoover probably had Martin killed, and who the hell knows who killed Bobbie and JFK? Probably LBJ. The point is, there's nobody left who isn't wearing some kind of disguise. So who do you trust?" (TD, 59). Far from representing a revolutionary challenge to the system, Weatherman merely repeats its alienating logic. For this reason, nobody in the novel finds Hannah's radical past remotely threatening: Hannah's future husband reveals to her at their first meeting that her identity is common knowledge and that "it didn't seem that ... [she] was of any particular danger" (TD, 80). Concisely put, the critique that The Darling offers of Weatherman is that no one cares about their political legacy because they never succeeded in escaping the atomizing, alienating tendencies of the society they resisted.

At the same time, however, the novel cannot forsake the effort to imagine the terms of a community or collective identity that might overcome these conditions. Although Hannah largely abandons revolutionary practice once she arrives in Africa, she holds onto the political analysis that locates injustice and oppression in class and race:

At the bottom nothing had changed ... when I looked beyond [Africa's] exoticism to the day-to-day reality of people's lives, I saw that they were made poor and weak so that I could be rich and powerful; they watched their babies shrivel in their arms so that my children, should I ever want to bear them, could be inoculated against the plagues and run in the sun and someday go to Harvard ... for me there was no morally acceptable response to it, other than guilt (TD, 69).

Seeing the same structures of oppression and exploitation reproduced in Africa, Hannah switches from one mode of limited collective analysis to another: "There in Africa, for the first time in years, those feelings emerged in a pure, de-racialized stream. It was all about class, I decided, not race, and I dove into the stream and swam as if born in it" (TD, 71). In fact, Hannah's retrospection appears as a series of such leaps from ideal to ideal of collective identification: from Weatherman's vision of transracial solidarity with the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army; to Charles Taylor's class-based solidarity with the African poor; to a longing for maternity to make her feel "expanded and deepened" in identity as well as body; to an undefined sense of responsibility for and communion with her "Dreamers," the family of chimps she rescues from medical experimentation but ultimately abandons (TD, 162, 43). In this way, the novel, narrated entirely by Hannah as a confessional retrospection, might be read as a singular search for some form of community that transcends the alienation and isolation of the revolutionary party. The situation that forms the narrative's present moment from which Hannah reflects on the history leading to her recent failed trip back to Liberia to recover her lost sons finds her living in rural upstate New York, having founded a communal farm for women that supports itself by selling ethically raised produce to local communities. Only here is Hannah able to synthesize a kind of interspecies collective body, which consists of "Anthea and the girls and my faithful collie dogs, all of us caring for sheep and hens and my beautiful gardens." And she imagines them as participating in some kind of meaningful political resistance: "This, I have convinced myself, is our little battle won. It's me and Anthea and the girls against Tyson's and Frank Perdue and the industrialization of the food chain ... We're doing it, by God, for a reason. It's political" (TD, 33, 27). In this sense, Hannah's narrative self-reflection is both "a tale of too-late" and "a cautionary tale," a series of failed attempts to move beyond the contradictions which seem to make meaningful social change impossible (TD, 31). The revolutionary party, motherhood, and interspecies care all represents modes of self-identification with some larger collective identity that are nevertheless too limited to radically transform the realm of what is possible in the world. At the same time, by constantly circulating among these three modes engaging in a limited political resistance to corporate logic, adopting a maternal relation to the younger women in her collective, and cultivating a sense of ethical responsibility to other species Hannah is finally able to cobble together a modest revolutionary community which succeeds in making "its inhabitants, me included, sanctified and blessed" (TD, 33).

Unlike Great Neck's multivocal narrative form, which attempts to situate Weather radicalism within a larger plurality of fidelities to the same event, The Darling's solitary retrospection locates the eventual emergence of a collective body of (minimally) transformative politics at the conclusion of its chronology. That body appears as the telos along which Weatherman and other examples of self-organizing collectives strive and fall short. The formal differences of the narratives thus reflect their authors' different attitudes towards Weatherman's project. The protagonists in Great Neck must work together to forge a narrative coalition and can only do so by positing a common commitment, while the chronotopic arc of Hannah's developmental self-narrative requires a linear development that differentiates where she is now from where she began as strongly as possible.

In its critique of Weatherman, Eat the Document combines elements of both of these approaches. Like Great Neck, it weaves back and forth between multiple characters' different relations to the radical politics in order to represent the revolutionary party's relation to politically sympathetic outside groups (in this case, subsequent generations of political activists). Like The Darling, these narrative retrospections often take the form of confessions (Jason's diary) or private recollections (Henry's dreams and Louise's flashbacks) that are isolated from any collective dialogue or interaction. The result is a hybrid of Great Neck's multivocal collective and The Darling's isolated confession: a chorus of private reflections that remain largely ignorant of each others' existence until the novel's final pages. Nash retrospectively dismisses his own radical films as "obscure and difficult to access" and "elitist"; Miranda expresses frustration that her own generation of '90s activists "have the wrong analysis" and "miss the economics" because they "have just enough compassion for the cute animals"; and Louise distinguishes between the movement's just "intentions" in protest of the war and the "terrible consequence" of violent activism. These explicit (self-)critiques of radical politics form a polyphonic autocritique that culminates in the formulation of a new, purely negative critical imagination for a new generation of political organization.33 Nash describes this imagination as "his Antiology, or study of all things anti. His Counter-Catalog. Compendium of Dissidence. Ana-encyclopedia. The Resist List. His Contradictionary" (ETD, 36).

This "Antiology" not only represents the elevation of autocritique to the level of political ideology; it also represents the only hope for imagining and organizing the collective political body. Like Great Neck and The Darling, Eat the Document's narrative can be read as following its protagonists through a sequence of failed attempts to imagine new models of communal life. Mary's journey takes us from the "huge miscalculation" of the revolutionary party, to "this women's CR group ... you know, empowerment, the usual raising of consciousness, blah, blah," to a fully self-contained and self-sustaining commune of "rural acid lesbians," to middle-class suburbia's "dreamworld ... of extra rooms upstairs and long, lazy afternoons with no interference" (ETD, 275, 99, 120, 73). Throughout her peripatetic narrative, Mary struggles to reconcile the isolation of maintaining her false identities (first as Caroline, then as Louise) with her unfulfilled commitments to the revolution. At the same time, Mary's former partner Bobby (now known as Nash) has become an informal historian and custodian of the Left, managing a radical bookstore tellingly called Prairie Fire, which he hopes will eventually "be run as a collective, by and for the people in the surrounding neighborhood" (ETD, 26). Nash's youthful fidelity to violent revolution has been transformed into a mature commitment to "making these kids see the store as part of their space or even worse, that word community" (ETD, 27). If this approach to collective organization sees no contradiction in borrowing the rhetoric and physical spaces of capitalism, it is because capitalism and anticapitalism have adopted the same logic of ironic value: "Irony can be the most subversive of stances," even as it has also "become the favorite mode of the new corporate generation" (ETD, 259). As a result, the future of radical collectivity is uncertain in the hands of "the scrappy outsider kids who either stood in the park and discussed various actions and take-it-to-the-street strategies or sat all day in the coffee shop inventing manifestos and declaring their opposition" (ETD, 36). What remains to be seen at the conclusion of the novel is whether a politics of ironic subversion is capable of producing a truly radical alternative, or if it will simply come to function as a liberal release-valve for registering symbolic resistance.

In their representations of Weatherman and its legacy, Great Neck, The Darling, and Eat the Document adopt a common set of narrative forms retrospection, confession, polyphonic narration that reflect both the self-critical and the collectivist dimensions of the movement's autocritique sessions. In doing so, the novels lay claim, like their protagonists, to parts of the legacy of Weatherman while vigorously critiquing other elements. The novels' common formal adoption both of retrospective and temporally disjointed chronotopes and of intermental cognitions set the conditions in which their particular critiques developed. Though these techniques are in themselves not exceptional in modernist or postmodernist literature, their use in dissolving and dispersing individual identities in order to foreground group identities places these novels within a particular tradition of collectivist political fiction. These formal techniques also establish the conditions for imagining a future for radical transformation. Great Neck's imagines a common moral cause uniting the very different politics of revolution and reformism. The Darling's conceives of some more truly, if more circumscribed, communal form of collectivity as replacing the impotent and self-alienating revolutionary party. Eat the Document represents terms for a collective identity not already co-opted by the corporatism that the revolution failed to abolish. The narratives' retrospective distance from Weatherman's revolutionary moment liberates them to identify certain elements of the revolutionary commitment worth preserving. In Eat the Document, Jason models precisely this kind of critical affection for the failures of the past, as he reflects on his decision to keep the records that he and his mother bonded over even after they have lost their initial attraction for him:

At some point enough time will have gone by of not listening that I'll listen again and it might sound fresh and new. It could again totally engage me, maybe in even deeper ways because I'll be an older, and presumably deeper, person. I might find things in it I never was able to hear before in my younger life. I might become just as enchanted, just as joyously captivated. I could fall in love all over again. All of that could come to pass. It is possible, isn't it? (ETD, 289).

Jason anticipates that a work which no longer makes sense for the present could someday be retrospectively redeemed and enriched by unforeseeable developments. His thoughts echo the longing of Beth, Hannah, and Louise for a new collective ground for transformative political organization. Eat the Document's immediate critique of the Weather Underground (and perhaps the Beach Boys) is not diminished by its admission that they will continue to offer an urgent and refreshing vision. Nor does the novel's expectation of Weather's future possibility constitute any less of a commitment to its desire for critical distance from the movement. Only by imagining a new, self-organizing political body does it become possible for the novel and the new activist generation it imagines to occupy both of these positions simultaneously.

"What is to be done?"

"Perhaps there comes a certain time in the life of a nation," Jay Cantor observes in The Space Between, "when it wrestles with an angel to gain its name ... This is a rare moment in the life of a nation. It presents its writers with great possibilities: to have their words matter."34 Specifically, Cantor has in mind the revolutionary moment in Ireland that began with the death of Parnell, a moment which furnished Yeats, Joyce, and the other founders of Irish modernist literature with an opportunity to forge a new collective identity and set of shared values for their nation. And although Cantor does not say it explicitly, one gets a sense from The Space Between that with the exhaustion of revolutionary potential in the U.S. by the end of the 1970s, the energies of political and aesthetic transformation are not concentrated in postmodernist formal experimentation. Rather, they are distributed across the globe in the various modernisms emerging in concert with postcolonial struggles in Asia, Africa, and South America. The revolutionary legacy of Joyce and Beckett lies not with Barthelme and Gass, whatever their cultural politics, but with Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, with Nadine Gordimer and Naguib Mahfouz, with Mario Vargas Llosa and Roberto Bolaño. The difference, Cantor suggests, between literature that matters that is, literature that makes a difference in concrete political struggles and literature that doesn't is not to be located in the text itself. Rather, literature's potential for political consequence is historically determined, emerging in dialectical relation to the revolutionary potential latent in its particular moment.

It is ultimately no accident, then, that the rise of a new generation of U.S. novelists interested in rethinking art's relation to the world should coincide, not only with a heightened awareness of the globality of contemporary social reality, but also with a resurgence of interest in earlier moments of American revolutionary potential.35 In their relationship to this past, the Weather Underground novels of Cantor, Banks, and Spiotta construct a new pedagogical vocation for themselves, a vocation that is at once disciplinary and utopian in character. Disciplinary because it seeks to offer a critical, correctional perspective upon the revolutionary politics of the past; utopian because it draws on the resources therein to construct forms of collective identity and collective action suited to present and future revolutionary politics. This dual-function offers a necessary complement to the social-analytical work performed by cognitive mappings of the world system such as one finds in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004) or Annie Proulx's Barkskins (2016). While such cognitive mappings serve an important political-instructional service by offering something like a representation of late capital in its global totality, contemporary Weather Underground novels mark the equally important return of the old revolutionary question, "What is to be done?" Instead of developing a coherent theoretical representation of the world, they seek to raise concrete questions of strategy and tactics: What sorts of problems are faced by contemporary projects of social and political revolution? What forms have these problems taken in the past, and how have past revolutionary projects addressed them? What new conceptual, political, and social resources exist for facing them this time? In pointedly raising these questions and in insisting that the novel has a role to play in addressing them these texts begin to work out a new (or rather, to recover a very old) place for literature in the process of political struggle. Neither dogmatically reproducing existing social analysis nor mistaking formalistic experimentation for revolutionary politics, their adoption of autocritique as a narrative form allows them instead to assume the role of curators, critics, and weaponizers of revolutionary history. And, in the process, they bring the domestic political novel out of its postmodernist cynicism and into a contemporary period of renewed revolutionary sincerity.


Kurt Cavender will receive his PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University. His dissertation, "Narratives of the Event in American Historical Fiction and Documentary Film, 1970-2010," looks at representations of historical change in twentieth-century U.S. print and screen culture. His work has also appeared in College Literature and in Reading Modernism with Machines, eds. Shawna Ross and James O'Sullivan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

  1. Jay Cantor, The Space Between: Literature and Politics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), 3. []
  2. Here Cantor has in mind not only his own personal reading habits, but the entire field of Marxist literary criticism, both structuralist and humanist. "Though there is an emphasis on the literary activity," he writes of critics like Pierre Macherey and Terry Eagleton, "the activity always produces an ideological product, or effect, already known"; Cantor, The Space Between, 5. Whether this is a fair generalization, it certainly represents a common critique of Marxist thought during the eighties. []
  3. Ibid., 11-12. []
  4. Indeed, this phenomenon is evident in the cultural turn in the academy in arguments offered throughout the 1980s by theorists of postmodernism such as Fredric Jameson and Linda Hutcheon, for whom the "prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm" becomes "a discursive world of socially defined meaning systems." Jameson, Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), 48; Linda Hutcheon, "The Politics of Postmodernism: Parody and History" Cultural Critique 5 (Winter 1986-1987): 179. Implicit in these and other theoretical accounts of postmodernism was a shared understanding that the field of political struggle and the field of cultural representation had become coextensive, though theorists differed on what this meant for art's capacity for effective social critique. []
  5. Cantor, The Space Between, 11-12. []
  6. David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (London: Abacus, 1998), 81. For a full theoretical account of the New Sincerity in fin de siècle American fiction, and of Wallace's place within it, see Adam Kelly, "Dialectic of Sincerity: Lionel Trilling and David Foster Wallace," Post45, October 17, 2014. []
  7. Peter Boxall, Twenty-First-Century Fiction: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 127. []
  8. Caren Irr, Toward the Geopolitical Novel: U.S. Fiction in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 3. []
  9. Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (New York: Verso, 2004), 52. According to Denning's analysis, the postwar global literary landscape is dominated by two aesthetic trends: the postmodernist formalism of Western figures such as Gaddis and Barth, and a transnational magical realist tradition evident in the works of Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and other non-Western figures. Denning terms this second tradition the "novelists' international" because, in contrast to postmodernist formalism, it maintains many of the political-utopian commitments of early- and mid-century socialist realism. Consequently, the renewal of political-utopian concerns evident in contemporary U.S.-American novelists as diverse as Rachel Kushner, Colson Whitehead, and Dave Eggers would seem to place many of the current generation of writers as much in the tradition of Gabriel García Márquez and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o as in the tradition of Gaddis and Barth. This shift, I want to argue, is one of the ways of marking the end of postmodernism itself as a cultural dominant, and of the political aesthetics it entailed. []
  10. Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (Oakland: AK Press, 2006), 129-30. []
  11. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers Co., 1963), 19. []
  12. See, for instance, Lenin's remarks in the preface to One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on the Social Democrats' "work of self-criticism and ruthless exposure of their own shortcomings, which will unquestionably and inevitably be overcome as the working-class movement grows" (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978, 10) and Mao's essays on resolving contradictions in the party, "On Contradiction," and "On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party" in Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, vol 1. (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1967). []
  13. Berger, Outlaws of America, 105. []
  14. For a thorough introduction to this body of literature, see Harold Jacobs's edited collection of writings by SDS and Weather Underground members, Weatherman (New York: Ramparts Press, 1970). []
  15. Alain Badiou, Being and Event (New York: Continuum, 2005), 232. []
  16. See, for instance, Lorraine Rosal's description of the crucial role that these sessions played in enabling women in the organization to work out their particular relations to the collective revolutionary project: "For the first time we had criticism/self-criticism based on practice. We criticized each other as political women doing political work, and set up more concretely what our caucus must be. We began to see the caucus working within the larger collective as a place for women to share organizing experiences and to develop an analysis of male chauvinism and supremacy as tools of the ruling class, an analysis of the relationship between white working-class women and the international proletariat, an analysis of the economic ramifications of the oppression of women, particularly young women, caused by the crisis in imperialism, and so on." (Quoted in Jacobs, Weatherman 148-49). []
  17. With some exceptions. Many of the narrative features that are characteristic of the Weather Underground Novel's narrative autocritique are also present, for example, in Choi's American Woman. It is worth noting, however, that this novel's interest in the Symbionese Liberation Army places it thematically and conceptually closer to the Weather Underground novels than many of the other works in this category. []
  18. M.M Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 84-85. []
  19. Ibid. []
  20. Ibid., 131. []
  21. Ibid., 135, 140. []
  22. Ibid. 141. []
  23. Alan Palmer, "Intermental Thought in the Novel: The Middlemarch Mind." Style 39.4 (Winter 2005): 427. []
  24. Ibid., 429. []
  25. Ibid., 434. []
  26. Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document (New York: Scribner, 2006), 113, 187. []
  27. Russell Banks, The Darling (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 48. []
  28. Jay Cantor, Great Neck (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), 14. []
  29. Daniela Daniele, "Review: Vintage Memories in Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document," Italian Americana 28.2 (Summer 2010): 214; Mark Kamine, "Radicals From a Special Place," review of Great Neck by Jay Cantor, New Leader 85.6 (Nov/Dec 2002): 53; Aliki Varvogli, "Radical Motherhood: Narcissism and Empathy in Russell Banks's The Darling and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document." Journal of American Studies 44.4 (November 2010): 664. []
  30. Daniela Daniele, "Review: Vintage Memories in Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document," Italian Americana 28.2 (Summer 2010): 214; Mark Kamine, "Radicals From a Special Place," review of Great Neck by Jay Cantor, New Leader 85.6 (Nov/Dec 2002): 53; Adam Begley, "To know which way the wind blows," The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2003: 11; Aliki Varvogli, "Radical Motherhood: Narcissism and Empathy in Russell Banks's The Darling and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document," Journal of American Studies 44.4 (November 2010): 660. []
  31. Cantor, Great Neck, 17; hereafter cited parenthetically as GN []
  32. Banks, The Darling, 53; hereafter cited parenthetically as TD []
  33. Spiotta, Eat the Document, 216, 61, 273; hereafter cited parenthetically as ETD []
  34. Cantor, The Space Between, 19-20. []
  35. For a parallel instance of this phenomenon, consider the recent literary attention paid to Reverend John Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid: Russell Banks's Cloudsplitter (1998), Douglas Rees' Lightening Time (1999), Michelle Cliff's Free Enterprise (2004), Marilyn Robinson's Gilead (2004), John Michael Cummings' The Night I Freed John Brown (2008), and James McBride's The Good Lord Bird (2013). []