Academic journal article Style

Raymond Carver's "Epiphanic Moments"

Academic journal article Style

Raymond Carver's "Epiphanic Moments"

Article excerpt

Criticism on Raymond Carver is marked by an astonishing absence of consensus. Indeed, like no other author of the so-called minimalist movement, Carver has been coopted by the various critical schools as a conveniently elastic foil to demonstrate their respective aesthetic ends. Thus critics interested in literature's heteronomous aspects have interpreted Carver as (1) a genuine social realist who excels in sympathetic accounts of America's underprivileged (e.g., Morris Dickstein), (2) a dangerous social realist with a conservative political agenda (e.g., Frank Lentricchia), or (3) a failed social realist with no political agenda and no understanding of his social matrix whatsoever (e.g., John Aldridge). Critics focused on literature's epistemological commentary have described him as (1) a naive naturalist behind a minimalist mask, betraying the achievements of the 1960s ironists (e.g., William H. Gass), (2) an epistemological nihilist behind a realist mask, sharing the postmodernist refusal to engage with re ality (e.g., Tom Wolfe, "Stalking"), or (3) a genuine postmodernist skepticist who synthesizes the one-sided epistemologies of conventional realists and traditional fabulists into a higher level (e.g., Phillip Simmons). Critics looking for literature's aesthetic function and formal innovation, finally, have read Carver as (1) a founder of a new, highly original, representationalist version of the minimalist style (e.g., John Barth, "A Few Words"), (2) a copier of an insipid, Hemingwayesque tone more suitable to popular fiction (e.g., Joshua Gilder), or (3) a stylistically blank chronicler of urban despair with virtually no literary signature at all (e.g., James Atlas).

To an extent, this unusual heterogeneity of critical assessments may result from a lack of historical distance; yet at some level, I believe, it was encouraged by the structural specifics of Carver's work: Carver's typical text offers hardly any obvious hints as to its aesthetics, epistemology, or politics. In terms of the sort of questions critics have begun to ask in the wake of the debates on realism and postmodernism since the 1960s, Carver's stories can be said to be "open" texts. This does not mean, of course, that they transcend aesthetic questions or leave them entirely up to the reader; it does mean, however, that they eschew the clear aesthetic markers with which hurried readers can easily determine what kind of text they are dealing with (i.e., pre-, post-, post-post-modernist, and the like) and thus what kind of reading posture they should adopt (i.e., suited for ironic play or serious social commentary). Carver, it seems, jumbles the rules of the traditional aesthetic games by juxtaposing represe ntation with silence and disconnecting experiment from metafiction, but he does not complement his texts with convenient meta-commentaries, either implicit or explicit, that guide the reader towards a clear-cut textual intention. What further complicates assessment of Carver's work, moreover, is that the notion of the Carver-text really applies only to his blue-collar subject matter and the general feel of his narrative surfaces. That is to say, although one can speak of a characteristic "tone" and "theme" of Carver's fiction, there is, behind the exterior of his type of minimalist, New Yorker story, a rhetorical versatility and a constant shifting of rhetorical register that eludes simplistic categorization. Most of the stylistic catalogues conceived as an attempt at defining minimalist technique" (by, for instance, Bell or Herzinger) fail to do justice to a diversity in Carver's prose that often goes unnoticed because its stylistic stoppings and subversions do not always come with the histrionic sashay typi cal of experimentalist fiction. Carver's verbal subtlety and outward technical reticence seem to have encouraged his interpreters to beat his work into whatever aesthetic or political intention suits their purpose.

In what follows, I will focus on a specific aspect of Carver's rhetoric that is often used to stereotype the aesthetic signature of his work, namely his employment of epiphanic rhetoric. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.