Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Obscure Invitations: The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Synopsis

Literary studies in the postwar era have consistently barred attributing specific intentions to authors based on textual evidence or ascribing textual presences to the authors themselves. Obscure Invitations argues that this taboo has blinded us to fundamental elements of twentieth-century literature. Widiss focuses on the particularly self-conscious constructions of authorship that characterize modernist and postmodernist writing, elaborating the narrative strategies they demand and the reading practices they yield. He reveals that apparent manifestations of "the death of the author" and of the "free play" of language are performances that ultimately affirm authorial control of text and reader. The book significantly revises received understandings of central texts by Faulkner, Stein, and Nabokov. It then discusses Eggers' Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the films Seven and The Usual Suspects, demonstrating that each is a highly self-aware rebuttal of the notion of authorial absence.

Excerpt

Why obscure an invitation?

It seems, for a moment, like a contradiction in terms—the open hand halfwithdrawn, the beckoning path perversely shrouded, the appeal hobbled and slowed before it is even properly advanced. This dissonance can be resolved by imagining pragmatic grounds: decorum, or established protocols, or even selfprotection. Such considerations will enter, obliquely and intermittently, in the chapters that follow, but I am primarily concerned with two alternative motivations—less immediate, less urgent, one might go so far as to say more willful. The first is a spirit of play, in which obscurity serves to augment the more recondite pleasures, for both inviter and invitee, inhering in a veiled interaction. The second is a process of tutelage, each step in the discernment and pursuit of an invitation changing the seeker in small but finally significant ways. These two rationales are far from mutually exclusive, and they have in common their welcome of the delay obscurity confers, freely distending the interval in which an invitation wholly emerges, or profiting by the lengthy expanse (of time, of text) in which it might fully unfold. Both will factor, in varying combinations and degrees, in each of the works I discuss herein, each embracing the longueurs and divagations of the narrative form to stage a dialogue equally as sustained as it is surreptitious.

The texts are, in many other respects, a relatively heterogeneous grouping: two novels, two memoirs, and two feature films; dating from 1930 to 2000 . . .

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