Decade of Novels: Fiction of the 1970s : Form and Challenge

Decade of Novels: Fiction of the 1970s : Form and Challenge

Decade of Novels: Fiction of the 1970s : Form and Challenge

Decade of Novels: Fiction of the 1970s : Form and Challenge

Synopsis

". . . clear and illuminating¿Berryman is . . . one of the finest essayists of the contemporary scene to show up in print over the last decade."¿STUDIES IN THE NOVEL

Excerpt

Once upon a time fiction was thought to be a mirror held up to nature. Or was it life that imitated art? Now that fiction and reality are both considered problematic, the question itself has been deconstructed. Fiction has become metafiction, fabulation, surfiction, the new novel, anti-fiction, and postmodern signs. Reality has fallen into the linguistic gap between the signifier and the signified. Where does that leave the contemporary novel?

While critics in the 1970s were engaged like armies clashing by night, the ten authors in this study were creating a remarkable decade of novels. the voices from current events were often anticipated in the pages of fiction. the final scenes of Watergate—"I am not a crook"— did not appear on the stage of history until more than two years after Philip Roth had dramatized the antic behavior of Trick E. Dixon in Our Gang . the experience of Patricia Hearst—"I am a soldier in the people's army"—only became news three years after John Updike had created a similar character in Rabbit Redux . the mass suicide in Jonestown—"It is beautiful to die"— took place four years after Toni Morrison had dramatized National Suicide Day in Sula .

If current events and contemporary novels are created by imitation in either direction, then most definitions of realism merely beg the question, and the mixture of life and art cannot be undone. Norman Mailer implies as much when he uses "History as a Novel/ the Novel as History" for the subtitle of The Armies of the Night . Given this premise, what is the proper role for literary criticism? Despite all of the recent interest in self-reflexive fiction, the problem cannot be solved by shifting the critical focus exclusively to the strategies of art. No matter how self-conscious the novel becomes, it cannot exist solely as a reflection of itself, nor as a parody of its own artistic conventions. the blank pages in Tristram Shandy are the ne plus ultra of that strategy. Nor does it help for critics to imitate the forms of fiction—reflexive . . .

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