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Title: Myths of Individualism in E.L. Doctorow's 'Ragtime'
Contributor(s): Harris, S (author)
Publication Date: 2001
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Abstract: Contemplating his imminent departure from Poland, with its long and compromising 'genealogies of concern and obligation', this central character in Susan Sontag's recent historical novel gives expression to the now-hackneyed dream of the New World. Looking westward, he conveys a longing for the promise of imaginative self-renewal -- in effect at once a yearning for regenerative innocence and a fantasy of romanticised self-perfection -- a promise that coincides with the idea of America as a place of 'newness, emptiness, pastlessness' where the individual can turn 'life into pure future.'1 That Ryszard communicates his feelings in the ambiguous form of a rhetorical question (put to himself in the third person) is worth noting for, in what is also a now-familiar story, what he and his fellow emigres inevitably discover is that the idea of self-renewal is, in practical terms, a far more difficult proposition. Sontag's novel is more complex than this suggests, and is noteworthy for what appears to be her revaluation of the symbolic significance of 'America' -- the 'old' New World that Sontag portrays in contrast to the contemporary United States.2 In restating what arguably remains the central American idea -- that of the potential for untrammelled self-transformation -- within the form of an historical novel that looks back to an 'America' of the past, Sontag's text serves as a fitting introduction to E. L. Doctorow's historical novel 'Ragtime', a novel which offers a more explicit critique of this very same idea.3
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Australasian Journal of American Studies, 20(2), p. 47-62
Publisher: Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association
Place of Publication: Australian National University, Canberra
ISSN: 0705-7113
Field of Research (FOR): 200506 North American Literature
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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