"Who better senses the ambiguities, intricacies, contradictions, and miraculous nature of the mechanized world than the artist?" asks Bettina Knapp and goes on to analyze works by eleven literary artists from ten different countries. She proceeds in chronological order, from Alfred Jarry's The Supermale (1902) through Sam Shepard's Operation Sidewinder (1970), examining each work's representation of the relationship between person and machine and—because she believes that the machine is an analogue of the psyche—recurrent conceptions of the human mind. Other works to which Knapp devotes separate chapters are James Joyce's "A Painful Case," Stanislaw Witkiewicz's The Crazy Locomotive, Luigi Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise, Antoine de Saint Exupéry's Wind, Sand, and Stars, Juan José Arreola's "The Switchman," S. Yizhar's Midnight Convoy, Jiro Osaragi's The Journey, R. K. Narayan's The Man-Eater of Malgudi, and Peter Handke's Kaspar. Many on the list are likely to be revelations to a less eclectic reader than Knapp, a prolific scholar who, under the pretext of discussing views of the machine, has concocted, out of motley genres, styles, and cultures, a sort of Rube Goldberg contraption for talking about Jung. The very diversity of the texts under review illustrates, claims Knapp, the universality of archetypal criticism.
The premise—that because Jungian analysis works on everything she can apply it to anything—might seem tautological were it not for the tenuous connection of chapter to chapter. Machine, Metaphor, and the Writer reads like the lecture notes to a bravura seminar in comparative literature that devotes one meeting each to eleven very different authors from throughout the century and the world. Aside from some sense that a machine, whether train, plane, computer, or printing press, is a catalyst for each of the plots, individual chapters are largely autonomous and somewhat repetitious. She notes the Latin etymology of initiate during a discussion of Wind, Sand, and Stars and then, almost one hundred pages later, during a discussion of Operation Sidewinder, makes the same observations as if for the first time. Even when discussing repetition, as she does in the chapter on Kaspar, she is redundant, as a reference to "repetitive anaphoras" illustrates.
Most chapters begin with a perfunctory sketch of the author that is likely to prove superficial to the specialist and inadequate for the novice. Knapp reviews the career of Hebrew novelist S. Yizhar in two sentences and sums up the history of Israel in one nine-sentence footnote. Her synopsis of Sam Shepard's career omits any mention of Fool For Love or True West, two of his most important plays. A chapter on Narayan confuses "infer" with "imply," and the entire book suffers from either a high threshold of credence or a low concern for platitude, as the adjective "incredible" surfaces with a frequency that strains patience if not belief.
It is not entirely clear what point Machine, Metaphor, and the Writer is trying to make. Individual chapters offer useful analyses, but many, like the one on Osaragi, conclude with a banality about "the intertwining of the wisdom of the [End Page 671] ancients with the innovations of the modern era." It is surprising that a book on the machine as literary metaphor offers only one brief allusion to Isaac Newton and none to Julien de La Mettrie, Walter Benjamin, Norbert Weiner, or Marshall McLuhan. The book betrays no awareness of Hugh Kenner's 1986 The Mechanic Muse. Although I miss any examination of le nouveau roman, particularly Michel Butor's La Modification, of Karel Capek, Blaise Cendrars, Stanislaw Lem, Norman Mailer, and of any poet, particularly Hart Crane, texts chosen for examination are admirably diverse. However, it is surprising that, given the links Knapp herself acknowledges between the...