Toward a Theory of Satire II: Secret History

  • Melinda Alliker Rabb


Gossip and slander are not the only means of releasing competing stories into the world. ‘Secret histories,’ ‘memoirs,’ and ‘anecdotes are another way of giving birth to a succession of hidden possibilities. “Truth is the daughter of time, was the saying of old” is Thomas Hooker’s nostalgic observation (A2r). But truth now propagates haphazardly because sometimes God “opens and shuts the womb of truth from bearing, as he sees fit.” Hooker gropes for a justification of the relativism of representations of the past: “Not that there is any change in the truth, but the alteration grows, according to mens apprehensions, to whom it is more or less discovered, according to Gods most just judgement, and their own deservings.” Noting that Hooker cannot separate “the notion of historical ‘truth’ or ‘fact’” from “mens apprehensions” of it, Anthony Kemp argues that by the eighteenth century “Western comprehension of historical time reversed itself, from an image of syncretic unity … to one of dynamic and supersessive change spawning schism after schism from the inherited text of the meaning of the past” (v). Textuality is central to this change: “History can be no more than conceptions recorded in an immense palimpsest of historical texts: literary inventions, reinterpretations, attempted erasures” (vi). Skepticism and even contempt for the past tend to “increase as the past history and present society multiply competing ideologies until the faintest remnants of the ideal unity in objective truth are lost” (178).


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© Melinda Alliker Rabb 2007

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  • Melinda Alliker Rabb

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