Timely Representations: Writing the Past in the First-Person Present Imperfect

The present article draws from Henry Rousso’s La Dernière Catastrophe (2012) and Ivan Jablonka’s L’Histoire est une littérature contemporaine (2014) to analyze a series of novels published recently in France, dealing with the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies, and to explain what they reveal about contemporary society and current developments in historiography. The “present imperfect” refers not only to the first-person narrative mode prevalent in these works, but also to the “imperfection” stemming from the fact that (a) this past is not yet entirely over or complete (thus “imperfect” in the etymological sense) and (b) the narrator thus becomes irremediably involved in this history.