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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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The Work of Art in the Age of Plausible Deniability

The Work of Art in the Age of Plausible Deniability

(p.143) 4 The Work of Art in the Age of Plausible Deniability
The Covert Sphere

Timothy Melley

Cornell University Press

This chapter traces the roots of postmodern historiographic skepticism in representations of a dysfunctional public sphere. Many postmodern novels develop intentionally incomplete or “dysfunctional” narratives to critique the conditions of knowledge in a regime of state secrecy. Central examples of these come from the novels of Joan Didion, which allegorize the Cold War public sphere through a female protagonist who is romantically involved with both a public servant and a secret agent. By emphasizing the difficulty of producing a clear explanation of events, Didion's elliptical style excellently establishes the exclusion of the Cold War public from the male realm of state policymaking. The chapter also looks at John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse (1968) to suggest that even metafiction not primarily about state secrecy is nonetheless intertwined with the problems of public knowledge in the covert sphere.

Keywords:   postmodern historiographic skepticism, postmodern novels, dysfunctional narratives, state secrecy, Joan Didion, Cold War public sphere, metafiction

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