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Affect and History in Ninotchka Rosca’s

State of War


accentuates the experiences of the “life-world” before they are

totalized and reified into univocal, abstract narrative of national

history. The emphasis on the present seeks to expand the writing

of history to incorporate multiple temporalities, including national

history and the everyday, “where the former . . . [secured] the

identity of each moment (periodization and stages in a trajectory),

while the latter saw in the present a break with all antecedents and

thus a new way to envision the relationship between the present

and the past” (183).

Harootunian accentuates the present and the everyday as a

site of disruptive potential not only to challenge postcolonial

national narrative, but also to resist historiography energized by

capitalist expansion (2004).


Drawing upon Harootunian and

Marxist cultural theorists such as Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek,

cultural critic Lauren Berlant roots her examination of historical

novels in the concept of anachronism

“the overdetermi- nation of

any historical moment by forces that each have their own histories

and histories of relation to each other” (2008: 847). Accordingly,

she pronounces a new mode of historical analysis focusing on

people’s embeddedness in the events and their affective response to

the crisis in everyday life. As Berlant maintains: “Affect works in

the present, and so the ongoing historical present, rather than

being matter for retroactive substantialization, stands here as a

thing being made, lived through, and apprehended” (848). For

Berlant, the historical novel, instead of resorting to linear plotline

and homogeneous temporality, mobilizes anachronism to open up

“a past historical moment,” and “a moment in transition,” to

explore its affective life before it is coded into fixed meaning (847).

Specifically, Berlant pays attention to the crisis in the everyday as

the site of the present in history:


In “Shadowing History” and “Remembering the Historical Present,”

Harootunian pronounces the present of history as a kind of anachronism

capable of breaking the historiography sustained by capitalist expansion.