‘What happened to the truth is not recorded’: Anticipating the Shift from Postmodern Consumer Culture to Post-Truth in Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot
This paper will explore the concept of “fakeness” in Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. Defining “fake” as something “formed by or adapted to an artificial or conventional standard,” I will show how Barnes’ novel exposes the “fakeness” of historical knowledge. Utilizing Linda Hutcheon’s theories regarding postmodern literature—as well has Hayden White’s theories regarding historiography—I will analyze how Flaubert’s Parrot fakes literary biography, historical documents, academic conventions, female voices, and even the novel itself. This paper shows how Flaubert’s Parrot exposes the weaknesses in our understanding of history, as well as our willingness to believe in problematic historical narratives. More than this, my paper will show how Barnes’ novel ultimately succumbs to the narrative conventionality that it claims to subvert—illustrating how it is impossible to escape factitious conventions if one wants to impart a sense of meaning. Flaubert’s Parrot serves as a case study within the fields of deconstruction, narrative theory, and historiography—showing how problematic historical accounts can easily mime conventional academic standards and be readily accepted by readers. My study of Flaubert’s Parrot is particularly relevant with regard to our “Post-Truth” political era, as it shows how the quest to include multiple truths in the historical narrative can be taken advantage of in order to include lies. Flaubert’s Parrot emphasizes Linda Hutcheon’s claim that our understanding of history is based upon unreliable “traces” and “relics,” and is susceptible to being radically altered by the addition or subtraction of historical “relics” (Hutcheon 119). Although Flaubert’s Parrot problematizes our system of historical knowledge, its ultimate submission to the conventional novel form shows that it may be impossible to escape from the factitious conventions that shape our modes of knowledge.