UK Poet, Philosopher & Artist Ivor Griffiths' Official Website

Contemporary Fiction

The Music of Chance by Paul Auster

Friday, October 19th, 2007

This is a chapter by chapter consideration of The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. I haven’t quite finished it yet and will be adding references and a bibliography in due course.

Point of view: Third Person Limited
Main Character: Nashe
Themes: death, loss, fatherhood, identity, chance, coincidence, isolation and control.
Portrayal of women: one is a kindhearted whore, Nashe’s sister is caring and loyal, Nashe’s ex-wife betrayed him and abandoned their daughter, Nashe’s next love spurns him for another. Possi’s mother is bitter and resentful: overall negative portrayal of women and mothers.

Chapter One: we learn that the main character, Nashe, has been abandoned by his wife who has run off with a man. She left a note but the ink was blurred having been left on a damp counter. They have a daughter. Nashe, a firefighter, leaves her with his sister. He loses her, she is only two. We learn his father abandoned him, but then left him $200,000 which he squanders on road trips, packs in his job, sets up a trust fund for daughter. Has a relationship with a woman but abandons her. She abandons him taking up with another man. We learn that he sells his piano, and everything else, abandoning his possessions and identity. He meets Possi a young lad, beaten up and by the side of the road. He accepts a lift and they head for New York.

Chapter Two: we learn Possi has been in a card game, he plays poker for a living. He was in a game with patsies – lawyers, and was winning. The game is raided and Possi is blamed by the lawyers for the raid and beaten up. He has no money. He tells Nashe about Laurel and Hardy, a couple of older men who won the lottery and play poker badly. Nashe determines to bankroll Possi for fifty per cent of the winnings.

Chapter Three: Nashe begins to realise he is not behaving like himself. They get to New York and stay in a good hotel, Nashe paying. Nashe buys Possi clothes when they go out to an upmarket shop, in which Possi is a little gauche. They go back to hotel, still bonding, they have a drink and then go to the room and Nashe orders food. They have the meal in the hotel room, during which Possi tells Nashe about his father, a person his mother hates because he was sent to prison. He comes back into Possi’s life a couple of times, having made a lot of money in real estate in Florida. Both times he sees him he gets money in the form of hundred dollar bills. Possi makes a meal of the first hundred dollar bill; it is a symbol of his dad. He keeps it for years and then begins to think it might be faked, like his dad, but goes to the bank and realises the note, like his dad is real. This chapter is in part continuing one of the themes in the book of paternity and its fickle nature. Nashe has a Father he does not remember but who gives him money. Similar to Possi’s experience of his own Father; and of course Nashe gives his daughter away but provides a trust fund before abandoning her altogether.

Nashe reads a book, when Possi falls asleep; about Rousseau a baseball player who recounts a test of throwing stones at trees, deceiving himself as Nashe puts it. Nashe knows he must test Possi’s card playing, we learn Nashe himself was once a decent player, but he puts off the test again, wanting Possi to suggest it. The next day Nashe plays Possi, thinks he is a good player and satisfies himself he can win. From this we learn they are both gamblers, both have paternity issues and both are wandering and will accept chance as a guide.

They travel to the country there is a change of scenery. Nashe discusses his life; they talk about the Lindbergh trial briefly. They get to a posh house in the country (House of Usher influence here Edgar Allen Poe).

Chapter Four: Nashe and Possi are shown around the house by the two patsies: Flower and Stone, see the little model city and the broken works of art that each collects. They discover that the pair of them has had lessons from an old professional poker player. They agree the terms of the game. They learn of the old Welsh stone castle they bought and transported to America, that they have ten thousand stones they wish to turn into a wall. Flower, the accountant, explains how numbers are like characters. 10,000 is a repeating number in the text.

Chapter Five: They play, Possi appears to be winning and then Nashe wanders off to stretch his legs. Goes to the little city and removes the two miniature figures of Laurel and Hardy (Possi’s nickname for Flower & Stone). Nashe steals it and puts it in his pocket; it is the first thing Nashe has stolen for years. He goes back to find Possi losing. He gives him his last $2300 dollars and then hocks the car. He loses that. Then they cut double or nothing and Nashe loses that. They owe ten thousand dollars. The pair asks them to build the wall to pay off the debt. Flower is an accountant and Stone an optometrist. They agree to build the wall for $10 an hour each and sleep in a caravan.

Chapter six they begin building the wall, digging a trench, they find they are fenced in. Nashe gets to like it, Possi cracks up and resents the work he must do. Possi wants to leave and believe they could do so. They have a guard watching: Murks, but are fed everyday and provided with accommodation. The bond between Possi and Nashe is established here. The homo-erotic nature of their relationship is suggested by the differing physical appearance of the two characters: Possi small and thin and young; Nashe older (thirty-three – a magic number 3×3=9) and his build and height. The loyalty that Possi shows Nashe could be through guilt or adoration. Possi gets drunk one night and goes to confront Flower and Stone saying “the whole world is run by assholes” he says.

There is much symbolism in this chapter:
a) The Wall itself becoming part of the landscape & a fence that surrounds them and keeps them penned in.
b) Work – the work of building the wall is physical and connected with the earth
c) The Overseer – Murks is like a prison guard, matter of fact but as accommodating as he can be to show he’s just doing his job. Work is fundamental to the remainder of the text.
d) Dictators and landowners – symbolised by Flower and Stone. The miniature city represents the magnitude of their power and that of place. It is a monument to it and a pointless and endless task, like building the wall.
e) Land living (in the caravan) versus city life or a nomadic rootless existence both characters were living before.
f) Manipulation and Mystery are introduced here. Nashe only knows of Flower and Stone what he has been told by Possi and the two men themselves. Invisible overarching powers are considered, and their power to intrude and manipulate rules and lives, in the characters of Flower and Stone, two contrasting objects in themselves.
g) Walking backwards and forwards across the meadow, De Charteau and his theory of space, walking and language. The blueprint is akin to a map. Maps figure in City of Glass.

Both Nashe and Possi believe, as a consequence of the contract, that they can have anything they want. So they ask Murks to get them a few items. Possi wants a deck of cards, the Nashe books and a radio.

They have to dig a long trench, there are blue prints to follow and the work is heavy but easy. The wall cuts diagonally across a field.

Possi believes that Nashe going off for an hour and stealing the little men brought him bad luck and confronts Nashe about this. Meanwhile Murks (sounds like Lurks) suggests that they might want to stay on and earn extra money. They burn the figures (voodoo and magical reference to emphasise the mystery).

Nashe becomes physically stronger as the work progresses but must help Possi as he is not strong enough to lift the stones. Each stone weigh 60 pounds. Nashe can carry one without difficulty. The work involves lifting the stones onto a child-sized cart and wheeling them over to the trench. Thereafter they must lower them into position and secure them with cement. The wall will cut through the meadow and not follow the contours of the land, like a cut through the turf. At first Nashe is exhausted but as the weeks progress he bonds with the environment and is resigned to finishing the task. He derives satisfaction from the work. This is echoed more intensely in the last chapter when he begins to record the stones laid. It is as if after such lengthy periods of repetitive physical work that he is disassociating from reality and merging into a task of work.

Chapter Seven: they are nearing the end of the ten weeks to pay back the ten thousand dollars owed from losing the card game. They want a party and Possi asks for a whore. They get drunk and Possi has sex with the whore who falls for him. Next day Murks presents a bill, it appears in the text as a list of items, for the goods they bought and points out the terms of the contract. Nashe and Possi object but have to comply when confronted with the weakness of their bargaining position. So they have to stay longer. This shows the power of employers and lawyers to compel compliance and manipulate rules. They must both work a few more weeks, which takes them up to Christmas. Possi says he wants to escape; Nashe does not want to as he has a deal and likes the certainty and security of where he is and what he is doing, he is reading and happy, his identity is stable. But they agree a plan: dig a hole at the fence through which Possi crawls. Next day Possi is found by Nashe beaten to a pulp. Murks and his son in law take Possi to hospital, they say, leaving Nashe behind. He gets really mad that he cannot go with Possi. He is physically restrained by the son in law, they are only doing their jobs and enforcing the contract. Nashe resolves to escape and goes to the hole to find it filled in. Flower and Stone in this chapter have disappeared to Paris, France. The detached nature of the power that is controlling and, so Nashe thinks, that has killed Possi is highlighted. Nashe believes Possi to be dead because he tried to escape: showing the arbitrary nature of power.

Chapter Eight: begins by referring to a dream in which Nashe never sees the end, more than a simulacrum which he defines as

“an illusion so rich in details of waking life that Nashe never suspected that he was dreaming.”

Nashe considers why he would not finish the dream (that is escape) and concludes that it is fear of Murks, who now carries a gun and has done since Possi assaulted him. He writes to his sister and lies about why he is delayed and what he is doing. He misses Possi and hates Murks; he becomes lonely and develops a hatred of Murks so intense he has daydreams about hurting him and later even a four-year-old boy whom Murks brings to the site. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides.

Nashe develops an urge to play music and asks for a cheap electric piano, he has sheet music in the boot of his car. He plays older music and loses himself in it. Nashe believes Possi to have been killed by Murks and buried. But Murks provides weekly progress reports on Possi’s condition. He also takes off his gun when Nashe asks him why he still wears it. Nashe sees this as symbolic but cannot work out Murks’ motivation in disarming himself, does he think himself in such a powerful position that he does not need to bear arms? Then one day Murks brings a child of four to the site and Nashe develops an irrational hatred of the boy accompanied by violent fantasies that often result in the boy’s death. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides. This change in character could be as a result of stress and the development of the bond between captive and captor. The child is symbolic of his own lost child and childhood, the loss of a father. Then he snaps and feigns illness only to find he is ill with the flu. These references to dreams, simulacrum and fantasies are all post-modern literary devices that are showing the blurring of reality and fiction and the consequential blurring and ultimate loss of identity caused by loss (death, divorce, parting). The living conditions, supervision, faceless arbiters of power, manual labour, ignorance and manipulation symbolise of commerce and the land owning class. The setting is rural and is distorted by an impenetrable fence, thus making it a closed space or cage. In addition the wall is a scar across the meadow symbolising the destructive power of construction. The impact of nature and the animals that inhabit the space with Nashe assumes importance in his mind and he grows fond of crows noticing that many birds have migrated, a contrast to his own situation.

Nashe develops a need to call the hospital and confirm to himself Possi is alive, the news is given by Murks that Possi left hospital, but Murks is also censoring his mail. Nashe chooses to believe that Possi is dead and that is why he has not been contacted by him. Murks is adamant that Possi is alive and discharged himself from hospital.

Nashe gets well and determines to ask Tiffany, the whore, to call the hospital for him and then write to him with the results. Thereafter he realises he wants to have sex with her and fantasises about this. When she arrives they dance and then have sex. He tells her a lot of nonsense about having contacts in the film industry and wants her to stay in the caravan with him. He justifies this by telling himself it will be better for Tiffany, who is fond of Possi, in dealing with the news, he tells her after they have had sex. So he is lying to get an emotional response, thus undermining his viewpoint, as a narrator. He then turns this all into a joke and then tells her about Possi. She is shocked by the news but says she will ring the hospital and then write to him. The fact that Possi does not help him and Tiffany does not contact him is explained by Nashe as being the fault of his captors in censoring his mail and killing Possi. Of course it could equally be that they have simply abandoned him a thought that will have crossed Nashe’s mid as he dismisses these possibilities in favour of the more outlandish explanation. Possi has been beaten up before, it’s how they met, they are in a deserted part of the world but if Stone and Flowers play poker a lot they may know the lawyers and spoken of their win. It is thus possible that a third party did do it and Possi has just left Nashe alone. The story that he tells is further evidence of his change in personality.

Chapter Nine

The last chapter begins with Nashe “Crazy with loneliness.” He is completely isolated now. All the people he loves and has loved are gone. He has slowly disassociated himself from all that he knew through chance encounters and a need to escape. This manifests itself initially in the road trip, clearly influenced by ideas first advanced by Jack Kerouac in On the Road. But for Auster the road trip is represented as soporific and isolating, with the direct result that a relationship that Nashe had wanted formalised by marriage ends. He is rejected for the second time by a woman.

Nashe chooses to believe that the girl had written but that Murks intercepted it.
He notices the birds and change in the leaves, the wall rises, he can see the big house through the trees. He is proud of his wall and begins reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and notices a line:

“…until someday in very disgust he risks everything on the single blind turn of a card…”
This coincidence echoes the incident in which Nashe lost his car, everything by then, on the turn of a card. Again numbers are figuring here, numbers and money seem coterminous.
The weather becomes foggy and the wall seems to merge with the fog, reality and dreams. Nashe writes down the number of stones he lays each day and believes them to be numerical representations of his inner-self, he was driven to do this by:

“…some compulsion to keep track of himself and not lose sight of where he was.”

Nashe longed for Juliette, his daughter, and imagined her singing the Daughter of Figaro. Nashe thinks about the collection and the miniature village that Stone and Flowers have made, or put together, like him and his wall. It becomes an important symbol for him as he empathises with his captors.

Nashe declines Murks’ offer of the Jeep to transfer the Stones, preferring the old ways of working. He shows assimilation by his surroundings and the effect upon his psyche and behaviour, reminiscent of Zola’s theories. He resolves to leave on the day of his 34th birthday which falls on December 13th. Then he realises he will have to work for another week to accumulate enough travelling money for Christmas.

Nashe continues to build the wall, finishes paying his debt and has his travelling money, and Murks and his son in law offer to take him out to celebrate. Nashe refuses but changes his mind when Murks calls on him, in a last effort to persuade him to socialise with him. Nashe has a few drinks. He realises they are going in the Saab that Nashe lost in the game and is now owned by Murks, the one they took from him. Then he gets drunk and beats Murks’ son in law at pool playing for money, this is a powerful irony. Nashe declines his fifty dollars winnings and tells him to buy his child a present with the money. Nashe asks if he can drive home and Murks agrees. While listening to Haydn, or possibly Mozart Nashe cannot be sure (blurring), at a volume Nashe drives his old car (and life) fast. Murks turns of the radio and Nashe, whilst remonstrating with Murks, takes his eyes off of the road and when he looks back he sees a car and speeds up to die. He makes a conscious decision to destroy the car a symbol of his old life and himself. He has had bad luck since stealing the figures, apart from the win at pool.


Paul Auster – Travels in the Scriptorium

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

I’ve just finished reading Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster. It continues with the characters first encountered in City of Glass. The hero is Mr. Blank and, like Daniel Quinn, he has identity issues. As in Auster’s other postmodern works there is an examination of time and space together with a meta-narrative. He uses the idea of labelling to consider the semiotics of language.

The writing, as one would expect from Auster, is outstanding. The structure of the text is that of a chapter, although he uses white space to break it up. The dialogue is carefully crafted and draws the reader into the stories within the text that make up the plot. As in City of Glass the story is a literary exploration and uses the idea of mystery to blur reality. Surveillance, confinement and the yearning for an outdoors life are themes that run throughout the text. He also considers the mechanics of writing and in the process explores point of view, structure and stoytelling.

This is a carefully crafted work that I highly recommend.

Waterland by Graham Swift: Analysis of Chapter Fourteen

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

This essay will critically analyse chapter fourteen of Waterland by Graham Swift and establish that it is in the style of a self-conscious lesson in history directed at the reader. In its form it will be shown to be metafiction linking history telling and story telling (Hutcheon 1989). That as a chapter it is a lesson about history and post modernist literary theory. Form, content and literary devices, used by the text, will be considered in making this argument, and establish that the key preoccupations of the whole text are encapsulated within it. These are metaphoric devices of the river representing the circularity of history; silt as representative of progress and history; the French Revolution, grand narratives and the destructive nature of society are also considered in the text.

The title of the chapter “De la Revolution”, French for revolution refers to the French Revolution which is linked to the age of enlightenment and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who considers the nature of man and his environment in the eighteenth century. He argues that it is not natural for humans to live in society. Rousseau considered a division between society, which he sees as negative, and human nature. He considers human nature fundamentally good but corrupted by society. He considered humans living in a natural environment, free from the trappings and rules of civilization as independent, self-sufficient and good, in his essay, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences written in 1750. The text refers to it as “Rousseau’s cry of back to nature” (Swift 1983 p.137). All the major characters in the text are in some way corrupted by civilization’s touch. For Rousseau society is artificial, like the land reclamation in the text, and social interdependence, which he considered destructive of humanity, is symbolized by Mary’s abortion. The power of the Atkinsons and Tom Crick’s lack of it is symbolic of the inequalities of society first exposed by Rousseau. This is referenced in chapter fourteen when Crick is telling the reader in the form of a lesson, that

“So-called forward movements of civilization, whether moral or technological, have invariably brought with them an accompanying regression.” (Swift 1983 p. 135).

Crick explains how printing presses led to propaganda, steam engines to “ten year olds working sixteen hours a day in coal mines” (Swift 1983 p.136) and airplanes to the destruction of European cities. He refers to the splitting of the atom: “And as for the splitting of the atom—” (Swift 1983 p.136). The text in this phrase is in its own paragraph, an encapsulation of the grammatical and punctuation devices used throughout the text. This phrase shows the metafictional nature of the text, self-consciously narrating history as a series of stories; Linda Hutcheon calls it “historiographic metafiction”.

“And” beginning a sentence is generally considered bad grammar, but it is a device used throughout the text. Deviations from accepted rules of textual structure are typical of postmodern metafiction questioning established norms. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as:

“fictional writing that draws attention to itself as an artefact” (Waugh 1984 p.2)

Metafiction self-consciously and regularly draws attention to itself as a book in order to examine the interface and dynamic between fiction and reality. This definition assists in understanding Chapter fourteen. It is written in the form of a lesson, addresses both readers and students in the class, it switches points of view and from addressing the reader to the scene in the class. This exploration of the narrative structure and consideration of the nature of the world outside the text as potentially fictional or misrepresented is typical of metafiction as defined, written in a postmodern style. It helps in understanding that issues are explored in the text by using “the metaphor of the book as world” (Waugh 1984 p.3) environment or grand narrative and then reshapes it in terms of contemporary thought in fields of philosophy, literature and language. It aids our understanding of the impication implied in postmodern metafiction like Waterland that says people have roles rather than self will and the consequences of other’s actions are a predominant feature of their lives (Rousseau refers to self will as self-sufficiency). This leads the reader to the logical conclusion that worlds and environments formed entirely from words are legitimate models for the examination of reality as a construct. This is what Waterland does in this chapter and is what Crick is teaching us, and does throughout the text as a whole, in terms of structure, content, style and grammatical devices – especially unexpected uses of grammar and punctuation – which draw attention to the metafictional voice of the text.

The metaficional lesson of this chapter and the text as a whole concens the negative impact of progress, supported by referring to the French Revolution, demonstrating the nature of history to distort the past, showing it to Modernists at least as a golden age: leading to a natural desire to revert to it. The title of the chapter refers to revolution, which also means circular and recursive, the lesson about history, Crick teaches his readers and pupils, is that a revolution involves going backwards in history to something better that exists, for post modern texts only in stories, no more reliable than the text that is speaking to the reader. The River Ouse is recursive potentially able to spread causing destruction unless contained by humans, like history and progress. The French Revolution is a symbol of attempts by society to retreat back into history and the destructive consequences of that. The theme of the text as a lesson continues in lessons, elsewhere in the text, about eels, land reclamation, the Ouse and silt. The message that the historical metaphor silt, inevitably returns to change the course of progress or the river, causing causes recursion or changes in direction, is constant throughout the text and present in this chapter. It describes history as an “Impedimenta” (Swift 1983 p.136) an “ever-frustrating weight”(Swift 1983 p.136), furthermore that it “…accumulates, because it gets always heavier…” (Swift 1983 p.136) this is also a description of silt; silt that “potato-heads”, like Dick, dredge up but becomes harder and harder to bring to the surface as it becomes ever larger and unmanageable, like history. Dick is the metaphorical hapless historian, dredging, the consequences “become more violent and drastic” (Swift 1983 p.137) the more dredging is done: Dick dies on the dredger. This is how Crick explains the “periodic convulsions” (Swift 1983 p. 137) of history. He refers to it as Natural History that seeks to take humanity back to “where we were” (Swift 1983 p.137), a reference to Rousseau’s view that humans are happiest living naturally. Crick considers the French revolution in some detail. The chapter, up to this point is delivered in third person limited to the perception of Crick. When the text begins to be more specific and consider the French Revolution the narrative voice becomes first person, as Crick, and is addressing the reader, the narrative is extremely self conscious at this point and addressed directly to the reader as a pupil. These shifts reflect the river, perception and reality as chaotic. At the end of this passage is another long dash which then leads into a first person narrative that utilizes mainly dialogue between Crick, now teaching in the classroom, and Price. Price is questioning the relevance or use of history. This is a metafictional device used by the text to consider post modernist theories of history and the importance of grand narratives. The voice of the chapter and the text is male, history and its relevance is considered from a male perspective, it is implicit from this that history itself is a male construct. The main characters in the French revolution were male. The lone female voice in this chapter is that of Judy Dobson who is described as a “perky answerer” (Swift 1983 p.139) she says “the voice of the people is the voice of God”(p.). A phrase used in the media to describe the opinions of “the man on the street”, quotes of which are usually edited. This girl in the book is portrayed then as an untrustworthy commentator, symbolic of the distain with which historical grand narratives consider female opinion and experience. Crick considers the meaning of “the people” by completely ignoring the girl’s opinion. Crick explains the pliable nature of history and its unreliability. The lesson directed at Price, emphasizes that history is for men. Crick says

“Price…the more you try to dissect events, the more you lose hold of them – the more they seem to have occurred largely in people’s imagination…” (Swift 1983 p. 140)

The theme, that history is male and both men and women suffered because of progress, is underlined by the fate of the female characters in the text: Mary losing a child, becoming infertile and then being committed, her mother’s and grandmother’s suffering. The text tells us that Dick is the product of a powerful, perverted and controlling man – a symbol of the corrupting nature of society. Dick’s father is a symbol of the futility of progress as he oversees the decline in his family fortunes and the beginning of the demise of the lock, control of the

Fens, the Ouse and Silt, ultimately arriving at Tom Crick, the narrator. The major premise of Post Modern metafiction is skepticism at the representation of history in grand narratives.

Enlightenment philosophers, like Rousseau, argued scientific thinking could examine all human activity and question everything – religion and authority especially. Prior to The Age of Enlightenment it was forbidden to challenge dogmatic, usually religious, theories. The Age of Enlightenment advanced ideas that reason and logic are able to establish an objective understanding of the universe.

Modernist writers have a mournful view of history as fragmenting and mourn its passing and do not question the validity of history and progress. Modernist literature considers that there is an overall purpose to human existence and views history and the loss of old values as a critical. The text obliquely criticises this view: “History is the record of decline. What we wish upon the future is very often the image of some lost, imagined past.” (Swift 1983 p.141)Price is mocking of the post modern approach to Crick taught in the lesson, he argues that to want a future does not equate to a yearning for paradise lost:“Never said anything about paradise. But – I want a future.”Price completely misunderstands Crick’s critique of Modernism. Modernists utilize narratives with multiple narrators, for example William Faulkners As I Lay Dying, showing an event from multiple perspectives as subjective and fragmentary and so history as fragmented and presenting this as a loss. Post Modernism celebrates this fragmentation. Crick is an example of it when narration changes from first to third person. Linda Hutcheon explains that Post Modernism is “not so much a concept as a problematic: a complex of heterogeneous but interrelated questions which will not be silenced by any spuriously unitary answer” (Hutcheon 2002)Jean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, explains the grand narrative. Stories are the original historical narratives. History once consisted of them leanding credibility to “facts” recorded, establishing social norms of behavior to protect existing power structures. Grand Narratives refer to the Koran and Bible. In his view these books confer credibility to the opinions and rules expressed. “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”. (Lytotard, 1984)Post Modernism rejects the mourning of a lost past. Chapter fourteen demonstrates that progress is inevitably damaging:“Why is it that every so often history demands a bloodbath, a holocaust, an Armageddon? And why is it that every time the time before has taught us nothing?” (Swift 1983 p.141)Post modernism accepts natural chaos and disorder as inevitable symbolized in the text by the bloodbath that is Mary’s abortion and in this chapter by referring to the Reign of Terror orchestrated by Robespierre. The idea that grand narratives can organize humanity socially is discredited in this text and reality. The collapse of communism in Russia and the secular nature of the

United Kingdom are examples of rejection. Changes in

China consequent to Mao’s death and the Polish shipyard strikes were the first signs of these changes that were contemporary to Waterland. The chapter concludes as the narrator, in first person poses a series of questions. Then says the French Revolution resulted in Napoleon, ironically referring to Rousseau’s Golden Age. The circularity of history is once again explained by Crick who ends by running straight into the next chapter, like water, into the Ouse, a vast expanse of history that will swallow this story with all the others.

This chapter highlights the mythological and potentially fictional nature of the past as a golden age; it questions the reliability of history, as recorded in grand narratives, in the post-modern tradition, utilising the device of metafictional narration. The chapter and text argues and demonstrates that preoccupation with the past can be damaging, and that one can never fully know what the past is because it is a collection of stories surrounding events, like the text. The end of the chapter leads straight into a chapter about the Ouse, emphasising the unending, but all consuming power of an unreliable history to shape the future. This failure to end the chapter occurs in the whole text as there is no final resolution to narrative.

Word Count 2100


Alphen E. V. (1994) The Performativity of histories Graham Swift’s Waterland as a theory of history, The Point of Theory, Amsterdam University Press:


Peter Barry, Beginning Theory, 2003,


University Press:


Decoste D. M. (2002) Questions and Apocalypse: The Endlessness of Historia in Graham Swift’s Waterland, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 43, No. 2. pp. 377-399.

Faulkner, W. (2004) As I Lay Dying,

London: Vintage Classics

Hutcheon L. (2002), The Politics of Postmodernism Routledge:


Janik D. I. (1989 )History and the “Here and Now”: The Novels of Graham Swift Twentieth Century Literature, Spring. Vol. 35, No. 1.), pp. 74-88.

Lyotard, J. F. (1979) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.


University Press:


Rousseau Jean-Jasques(1762) )(translated with an Introduction by G.D.H. Cole (1913))The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right J. M. Dent and Sons:London and

Toronto.Rousseau Jean-Jasques(1754)( translated with an Introduction by G.D.H. Cole (1913)), Discourse on the Arts and Sciences J. M. Dent and Sons:London and


Schad J. (1992) The End of the End of History: Graham Swift’s Waterland, Modern Fiction Studies, (Winter) 38:4 (911-25) (JSTOR)

Selden R & Widdowson P. (1993) Contemporary Literary Theory, Harvester Wheatsheaf:

Hemel Hempstead

Swift G. (1983) Waterland Heinaman:


Waugh P. (1984) Metafiction, The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, Methuen:

London Widdowson P. (1995) Graham Swift: Waterland, Newstories: fiction, history and the modern world Critical Survey, volume 7 number 1