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The Covert SphereSecrecy, Fiction, and the National Security State$
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Timothy Melley

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780801451232

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451232.001.0001

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Spectacles of Secrecy

Spectacles of Secrecy

(p.76) 2 Spectacles of Secrecy
The Covert Sphere

Timothy Melley

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines the Rosenberg trial's place in postmodern historiographic fiction. Relying on simulated evidence and staged testimony revealing covert activity, the trial possessed a fictional quality. The chapter then analyzes Robert Coover's satire of the Rosenberg case, The Public Burning (1977). Among the most important examples of postmodern U.S. fiction, this novel repeatedly associates its own narrative experimentation with the confusion of the Rosenberg trial and the ideological system that supports the National Security State. By doing so, it illustrates a common inconsistency of much Cold War avant-garde writing—because writers cannot know state secrets, they must limit themselves to representing the radical unknowing produced by the security state.

Keywords:   Rosenberg trial, postmodern historiographic fiction, The Public Burning, postmodern U.S. fiction, National Security State, Cold War, avant-garde writing

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