Ring Lardner and the Other

Ring Lardner and the Other

Ring Lardner and the Other

Ring Lardner and the Other

Synopsis

Ring Lardner and the Other is actually two books, mutually embedded. The first is about Ring Lardner: a long reading of a single Lardner short story, "Who Dealt?", a briefer look at his life and work, and an exploration of his reception. The second is about the "Other," in an expanded Lacanian sense: the speaking of various unconscious voices (mother and father and child, culture and anarchy, majority and minority) through literary characters and their authors and readers. The Lardner book explores the contradictions of Lardner's patriarchal masculinity--how such a dour, sexist alcoholic who hated humor and bad grammar could have created such a rich body of minoritarian writing, steeped in the emergent voices of women and the lower middle class--and the social functions served by Lardner's writing in twentieth-century America. The other book exfoliates Lacan's germinal concept of the Other by interweaving it with a series of theoretical formulations by Bateson, Deleuze and Guattari, and others. Robinson's book is an important reappraisal of a critically neglected American writer of the teens and twenties. The book includes an essay by Ellen Gardiner.

Excerpt

As my title suggests, this both is and is not a single-author study. It is to the extent that it is about Ring Lardner; it is not to the extent that it is about the Other. The Ring Lardner book, which acts as a kind of methodological persona or mask, is about one Lardner short story, "Who Dealt?" (part I), Lardner's life and work in broader perspective (part 11), and Lardner's readers in their cultural context (part III). The Other book, which wears or shapes the Lardner mask, is about the ways in which fictional characters, authors, and readers (including you and me) are "spoken" by various Others: authoritarian and rebellious; parental and childish; majoritarian and minoritarian; "esemphonic" and "asymphonic." The Ring Lardner book is a critical study of a minor American author who was popular in the twenties; the Other book is a theoretical exploration of what Fredric Jameson has called the "political unconscious," of our ideological entrapment in and various escape routes out of the double bind, the prison bars forged by society within our bodies.

The "who" questions that head the three parts of this study also point, by their very repetitive insistence, to and then past the obvious: in my Ring Lardner book, one of his characters dealt, Lardner himself wrote, and millions read. Even in that book, in fact, these "easy" answers raise more questions: Which of the characters in "Who Dealt?" dealt? The foursome plays at least three hands, one of which appears to have been dealt out by Arthur (and "made" for him by the narrator); but since "Who dealt?" is not a question actually asked in the story, the answer is at least problematic. Indeed, since the question seems primarily designed to reflect the narrator's ignorance of bridge, the "answer" may be a state of mind rather than a person's name. And who is Ring Lardner? One need not invoke poststructuralist pronouncements on the death or disappearance of the author to recognize the problematic nature of a simple "identification" like this: Ring Lardner wrote. Which Ring Lardner? The . . .

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