Excuse me, did I miss it?: reliving the event in Jennifer Egan's 'The Invisible Circus'

Charnock, Ruth (2014) Excuse me, did I miss it?: reliving the event in Jennifer Egan's 'The Invisible Circus'. In: Invisible Circus: An international conference on the work of Jennifer Egan, March 21st-22nd 2014, Birkbeck College, London..

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


The Invisible Circus opens with a missed event. ‘Crossing the lush, foggy park’, Phoebe realises that she has come too late to the Revival of the Moons festival, an event which encapsulates her desire ‘to relive what she’d failed to live even once.’ [4] Approaching a man [Kyle] ‘dismantling a bandstand’, she asks ‘Did I miss it?’ [3]. A few pages later, having gone back to the man’s apartment, the two talk about Phoebe’s older sister, Faith. The subsequent exchange between Phoebe and Kyle forms the starting point for this paper:
‘Sometimes I feel she’s [Faith] still back there […] In that time. I miss it like hell.’
‘Me too,’ Phoebe said, with an ache in her chest. ‘Even if I wasn’t really there.’
‘Sure you were there.’
‘No, I was a kid.’
There was a long pause. ‘I wasn’t there either, either,’ Kyle said. ‘Not totally.’ [12]
This paper will explore the feeling of ‘missing it’ in Egan’s first novel. What is it that Phoebe misses and what does it mean for her to relive an event she never lived in the first place? I will argue that The Invisible Circus is both in thrall to and profoundly sceptical of a version of the 1960s which appears, initially at least, to be signified by Phoebe’s dead sister Faith and fossilised in the San Francisco of the novel’s opening chapters. In asking what it means for Phoebe to miss and want to relive an event she never experienced, the paper will pose larger questions about the role of cultural mythology, nostalgia and the place of the ‘real’ historical event in Egan’s work.

Keywords:contemporary American fiction, nostalgia, Jennifer Egan, The 1960s, Politics, The 1970s, The event
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q322 English Literature by author
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q321 English Literature by period
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V100 History by period
Divisions:College of Arts
College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:15004
Deposited On:19 Sep 2014 10:39

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