Cambridge University Press, 1997.
The Usable Past presents a comparative discussion of American literary modes of historical imagining. Taking America in it's hemispheric sense, Lois Parkinson Zamora presents a broad-ranging discussion of essential American voices - among them Borges, Hawthorne, Emerson, Williams, Paz, Carpentier, Cather, Fuentes, Cortazar, Rulfo, Cisneros, Puig, Vargas Llosa, Morrison. These writers dramatize the convergences and divergences of history and fiction as they question the nature of both. Zamora argues that they are impelled by a peculiarly American energy - what she calls an "anxiety of origins" - to search for precursors and connect to (or invent) usable traditions and histories. They conceive of orginality not as novelty by as a complicated and enriched relation to their cultural traditions. How American wrtiers thematize usable American pasts, and how their work itself becomes part of the usable past, is Zamora's overarching concern.
The Usable Past is an elegant examination of the historical attitudes and literary practices of writers located in American time and space - locations that yield insight into American literary visions and versions of history.