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Reviewed by:
  • Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction, and: The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction
  • Jerry A. Varsava
Patrick O'Donnell and Robert Con Davis, eds. Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989. 339 pp. $32.50.
Tom LeClair. The Art of Excess: Mastery in Contemporary American Fiction. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989. 245 pp. $34.95 cloth; pb. $13.95.

Intertextuality and Contemporary American Fiction brings together a diverse body of generally distinguished work: eleven essays, an interview with Kristeva, and a fine bibliography by Jennifer Jenkins. Many readers will probably wish to start out by reading the first and last essays, which, in addition to being the lengthiest, are also broadest in scope. Authored by Linda Hutcheon, the opening work provides a detailed survey of parodic historiographic metafiction. Hutcheon has of course written extensively, and well, on parody and contemporary experimental fiction, and this essay has the hallmarks of her other work-clarity, unusual range, and perceptive synthesis. Here she reasserts a valid claim she has made elsewhere of postmodern fiction, that the latter is invested not only with self-reflexivity and formal parody but also with historical consciousness.

The last essay, Thaïs Morgan's "The Space of Intertextuality," provides a theoretical complement to Hutcheon's exegetical exercise. Morgan surveys twelve different theories of intertextuality, moving from the modernist position of early Eliot through versions offered by Bakhtin and Kristeva and, finally, various poststructuralists. She quite aptly points out that, its new lexicon notwithstanding, much contemporary analysis of intertextuality bears a strong resemblance to old-fashioned influence and source studies. Citing Reuben Brower's 1957 study of allusion in Pope as a traditional treatment of literary relations, she points out commonalities between the latter and certain positions taken up by, variously, Bloom, Kristeva, and Genette. Morgan concludes with brief although convincing remarks on Foucault and the rich(er) possibilities offered by the latter's broad, epistemologically-centered view of interdiscursivity.

The remaining nine essays are narrower in focus and either offer a reading of particular works or an intertextual analysis of a nonliterary form. Space limitations allow little more than a terse description of these. In an original and thoughtful piece, John Matthews considers how parody in selected Barth novels works to provide a formal literary solution for the "predicament of social parasitism" suffered by the comfortable and complacent American bourgeoisie. Focusing on Gardner's Grendel and Hawkes's The Blood Oranges, Heide Ziegler puts forward a typology of contemporary parody. In the most theoretical of the interpretive essays, Alan Singer discusses Bakhtinian dialogicality before going on to analyze aspects of Gaddis' Carpenter's Gothic, one of the more important American fictions of recent years. Charles Caramello reviews intertextual relations between Henry James and Gertrude Stein, whereas Ronald Schleifer looks at the theme of intertextuality and violence in Dreiser and Mailer. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. investigates the orchestration of black female voices in a variety of fictional and nonfictional works, particularly Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice [End Page 255] Walker's The Color Purple. Kathleen Hulley outlines the intertext of Kathy Acker's raw and abrasive fiction. Defining intertextuality in broad cultural terms, John Carlos Rowe attempts a selective thematic summary of popular American TV shows of the last forty years. Finally, in a meandering essay that considers, among many other things, Garbage-Pail children's cards, eugenics, and Ronald Reagan's surgeries—although very little literature—Gabriele Schwab looks at "Cyborgs and Cybernetic Intertexts."

The title of this collection notwithstanding, the essays by Caramello, Rowe, and Schwab are obviously not about contemporary American fiction. In their Preface, the editors suggest that the lowest common denominator among the collected works is an intention to "address the projects and limits of 'discourse' within the multi-discursivity of contemporary American culture." If this is true, title and text could be better matched. Alternatively, perhaps the editors should have more earnestly sought out contributions dealing with the subject matter of their title. Certainly, both "intertextuality" and postmodern American fiction—not to mention their interaction-are sufficiently broad and rich phenomena to support the demands of a major anthology...


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