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We regret the error: a novel and exegesis
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 17:11 authored by Alexander Luft
Working from a historical framework that positions newspapers and novels as divergent textual forms under a cultural paradigm of actuality, this series of essays examines journalism as a literary topos in 20th century American fiction. I argue for reading journalism-centered fictions as metanarratives about the formation of public knowledge and its underlying power structures. The first essay examines two novelistic accounts of Louisiana Senator Huey "Kingfish" Long's authoritarian tendencies-Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men-and their broad conceptions of the role of factuality in public discourse. The second essay argues two historically interested novels, Annie Proulx's The Shipping News and Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days, implicate journalistic practice in writing the "first draft of history" and subsequent erasure of alternative cultural histories. Finally, I read E.L.Doctorow's The Waterworks as a drama of unreportable truth, in which Doctorow imagines the incapacity of facts to function in a public sphere compromised by private interests. As a whole ,these essays reflect American novelists' thoroughgoing skepticism of journalism's devotion to epistemologies of verification. I take up this tradition with my own novel and its confrontation with the epistemological crises attendant to the United States' War on Terror. Set in a small town in Illinois in 2006, We Regret the Error centers on a young reporter named David Sinclair who struggles to find his place as the new editor of the weekly New Rome News. To win the favor of the town, Sinclair sets out to write a profile of a local war hero, Tiberius Marks, currently deployed in Afghanistan. But as Sinclair grows closer to Marks's fiancé, Ernestine Burden, reality and reportage diverge. When Ernie reveals that Tie has been missing in action for weeks, Sinclair makes the fateful choice to invent and publish a story of Tie's death, a version of martyrdom the town chooses to adopt as truth.