Postmodern American fiction reveals a profound ambivalence towards the book and the authorial self. Although the sources of this ambivalence are manifold, I shall concentrate in this study on the extent to which it issues from postmodern fiction's having assimilated incompatible precepts from contemporary critical theory, literary modernism, and the native American tradition. I shall maintain not only that the assimilation of these precepts leads to the fiction's ambivalence, but that the particular precepts assimilated further induce the fiction to conduct a reflexive meditation on the book and the authorial self and on the very ambivalence it reveals towards them. This study, then, shall comprise two procedures. I shall first present an account of the problematics of the book and of the authorial self as they appear in contemporary critical theory and as they have appeared in literary modernism and in the American tradition. I shall do so in order then to conduct an interpretative inquiry of these problematics as they appear in specific works of postmodern American fiction.
Although the problematics of the book and of the authorial self pertain to all literature and figure as concerns in most literature, they assume a specific shape in postmodern American fiction. Contemporary critical theory proposes that the concept of the book implies a literary heterocosm whose totality of signs represents or even reproduces a coherent macrocosm; the book, moreover, entails a vision of the authorial self as the originator of the literary heterocosm with the status of a creating divinity. Such theory forcefully argues that this concept of the book should yield to a concept of textuality. This latter concept implies that language issues from and refers only to language, and that the literary heterocosm, as a consequence, disperses into a circulation of signs perpetually constituted and deconstituted within writing and reading; textuality, moreover, entails the proposition that the freeplay of language has replaced the author as the originator of the now dispersed heterocosm or as the regulator of its meaning, much as the collective history of human interpretation has supplanted the divinity as the originator and as the regulator of macrocosmic meaning. Not only does this argument in contemporary critical theory pertain to postmodern American fiction, it largely informs this fiction's reflexive meditation on the book and the authorial self.
Postmodern American fiction, however, clearly evolves from literary . . .