Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 2005

The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 2005, Volume XXV, no. 2.

While Gass shares the love of experimentation that other writers of metafiction named above display, his fiction differs markedly from theirs. Barth, for instance, is enamored of the myths and folk-tales that he parodies and adulterates. Barthelme is a metafictional minimalist: one of the characters in Snow White drolly remarks that the “palinode” (13), or retraction, is his favorite form. Coover has an angry, politically engaged side that manifests itself most demonstrably in The Public Burning, his wild and hyperbolic rendering of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Gass, on the contrary, does not radically vitiate or reject narrative strategies; or rather, he relies on point of view in less destabilizing ways than do the others. Most of his work as a novelist and short-story writer utilizes the technique of interior monologue; he also leaves a consistent narrator in place. At the level of the sentence, though, is where Gass does his antirealistic damage. The rhythms and incessant alliteration he deploys in his prose; the showiness of metaphors… the elaborately constructed quality of his sentences (which transmit a sense of completeness as much as a connection with what precedes or follows them): these are the dominant metafictive characteristics of Gass’s prose. (Stanley Fogel, 10)

Just in case the reader of Gass’s fiction gets too complacent, thinking s/he has access to a finely balanced prose unit commensurate with the world or constructive of an alternate one, Gass will run a sentence off the end of the page as he does in Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife or, a la Thomas Pynchon, he will write such a long one that it is impossible to grasp in its completeness. (11)

The consensus among critics seems to be that here is a formalist, one who at every turn touts the integrity and autonomy of the work of art. This ignores the, call it postmodern, excess that is a part of everything Gass has published. … Although Gass nowhere refers to himself as a postmodernist or, especially, a deconstructor, he has, as much possibly as Jacques Derrida, Bathes, or any of their acolytes, helped to foster an intellectual climate in which the primacy of language, with all its indeterminate qualities, is valued over its referential properties; the formal limits of genre are resisted and exceeded; a critical vocabulary situated in continental notions of aesthetics (and stimulated by the interpretation of continental philosophers such as Hegel and Heidegger) has supplanted the discourse of New Criticism; the boundary between literature and criticism has been dissolved or at least miscegenated; the critic’s role as handmaid to the arts has been transformed into the kind of performative role that suits Gass’s (not to mention Derrida’s) theatrical style. (11)

…in many essays from the 1980s on he deploys the terminology and frame of reference that have become de rigueur in deconstructive circles. Echoing Derrida’s distrust of the stability of meaning—found most notably in Derrida’s pithy remark, “In the beginning was hermeneutics” (67) and in Pynchon’s equally witty and doubting assessment of “the dirct, epileptic word” (87), Gass writes the following in “Representation and the War for Reality,” published in Habitations of the Word: /
Certain philosophical systems can claim to discover conditions and laws in our life because they have become so enamored of their interpretive systems, where alone such conditions and laws exist, they do not realize that they are dreaming in their dressing gowns and an unconsuming fire is lit; yet it is precisely this ancient belief that in the beginning was the Word…which allows them to describe the general principles of creation with such accuracy… (108)

Omensetter’s Luck …Structured thusly, the novel recalls an earlier American masterwork, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. In the Faulkner opus three brothers tell conflicting versions of the same event while one central figure, Caddy, their sister, has no voice. In Omensetter’s Luck three points of view are again brough into play regarding a pivotal protagonist, Brackett Omensetter, who also is given no section in which to articulate his version of the story. (17)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home