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Reviewed by:
Donald Pizer. American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment: Modernism and Place. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1996. xv + 149 pp.
Marc Dolan. Modern Lives: A Cultural Re-reading of “The Lost Generation.” West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 1996. x + 253 pp.

In the last decade or so Paris as a haven for self-exiled American writers in the 1920s has more and more attracted the critics’ attention. Studies by Humphrey Carpenter, Arlen J. Hansen, J. Gerald Kennedy, Shari Benstock, or Andrea Weiss document this increased critical interest. A sufficient temporal distance seems to generate such contributions “to the currently emerging synthesis” of modernist America, as Marc Dolan convincingly argues. Modernism can finally be inspected from a postmodernist perspective and comprehended as a historical entity. The two studies under discussion, complementary yet different in their approach of the subject, are further attempts to re-view and revisit high-modernist Paris and assess its significance for American culture. Whereas Pizer reads his texts to trace their distinct “themes and shapes” which critics, in his opinion, have largely ignored, Dolan “rereads” his texts in order to look behind the textual shapes in search of covert subtexts. Where Pizer sees the texts “participate in the creation of a mythic expression of American self-exile,” Dolan′s effort lies in the demythologization of such mythmaking attempts.

Pizer’s study is undoubtedly the more traditional of the two. He explicitly opts for what he calls the “old-fashioned—but often still rewarding—critical method of approaching the themes of the work [End Page 467] through aspects of its technique and structure.” Three autobiographies (Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Anaïs Nin’s Diary), three novels (Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Dos Passos’s Ninteen-Nineteen, Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night) and Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which he sees as a synthesis of the autobiographical and the fictional mode, feature as Pizer’s core-texts. They, in his view, represent both “the basic configuration of and best expression within the expatriate writing.” Each writer sees “the Paris moment” as a mythic moment of liberation with a strong artistic momentum. Paris represents freedom from a coercive American culture; it sets free whereas America stifles creativity. It circumscribes an artistic space which each writer then invests with his/her meaning. As a diligent and attentive close-reader Pizer detects certain basic tropes which all his featured texts have more or less in common. Mobility, feeding, sexuality are diagnosed as the dominant structuring metaphors which characterize the Paris moment as free, nourishing, and creative. The creativity, Pizer argues, finds its most apt expression in formal experiments, discontinuous and fragmented, which can be read as attempts to transform the pictorial techniques of cubism and surrealism into textual equivalents.

In all the texts discussed Pizer finds a strong autobiographical impulse which he convincingly explains as the authors’ attempts to come to terms with their experiences of dislocation and otherness. The autobiographic mode provides an ideal form to re-create and re-imagine one’s self in an alien context. Yet autobiography proper and the autobiographic fictions for Pizer serve different functions. Whereas Hemingway, Stein, and Nin as autobiographers view Paris as a space of artistic maturation, a place of “radiant richness and freedom,” the fictional versions of Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, and Miller paint a much darker picture. Hemingway, who is discussed both as autobiographer and fiction writer, casts his autobiographical self as one who, journeying through a world populated by good and evil spirits matures, and in the end reaches his artistic mastery, while the fictional creation of Jake Barnes represents a writer’s more problematic side. In fictional disguises, it seems, a writer more readily reveals the darker corners of one’s self, while autobiography as a confessional mode which purportedly dispenses with personae practices its own art of exclusion and creates [End Page 468] its own masks behind which the autobiographer can hide what is not to be disclosed.

Though Pizer repeatedly invokes Paris as a mythic place of, above all, sexual freedom in contrast to a coercively prudish and moralistic America, he...

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 467-471
Launched on MUSE
1997-06-24
Open Access
No
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