restricted access Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide, and: Literary Subversions: New American Fiction and the Practice of Criticism, and: Understanding Thomas Pynchon (review)
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Reviewed by
Larry McCaffery, ed. Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide. Movements in the Arts 2. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 632 pp. $75.00.
Jerome Klinkowitz. Literary Subversions: New American Fiction and the Practice of Criticism. Modern Critiques/Crosscurrents/Third Series. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1985. 245 pp. $18.95.
Robert D. Newman. Understanding Thomas Pynchon. Understanding Contemporary American Literature Series. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1986. 155 pp. $19.95 cloth; pb. $7.95.

If Postmodern Fiction is a mirror held along the road recent experimental writing is traveling, it is a broken mirror, its 122 pieces held aloft at various angles by the eighty-eight contributors of sixteen overview essays and 106 short biographical-critical introductions to as many "Authors and Critics of Postmodern Fiction." The composite picture (with some overlap, several missing pieces) reveals a roadside occasionally foggy yet bustling and likely to disclose to different viewers different realities. To finish the book (and to drop the metaphor) is, however, to find certain basic questions as vexing as ever: which authors and texts are finally postmodern and why? If postmodernism is a movement of any kind or shape, what are its requisite formal and ideological attributes?

Minimally, postmodern fiction would seem to be work published since 1960 that, in Larry McCaffery's words, rejects "traditional notions of representation, mimesis, or realism" or attempts "to redefine what realism is." Beyond these basic distinctions, one is on one's own. For McCaffery, for instance, there exists "no sharp demarcation line between what constitutes modernism and postmodernism," whereas for Jerome Klinkowitz postmodernism grew from modernism in the direction of greater "self-apparency," eschewing modernism's penchant for artistic interpretation in favor of "the absolute opacity of sign." But merely to list the various traits and intentions of postmodern fiction as they are asserted or implied in the pages of Postmodern Ficion would require more space than is allotted me. This definitional pluralism is, at best, indicative of a vigorous and varied literary scene that McCaffery and his contributors wisely refuse to distort through oversimplification. At worst, this lack of consensus—which permits such dissimilar writers as Monique Wittig, William Gass, Salman Rushdie, and Robert Stone to be grouped together under the rubric "postmodernists"—suggests the limited usefulness of all efforts at labeling and classifying.

The sixteen essays constituting "Part One: Overview Articles" cover much ground. Following McCaffery's introduction, Lori Chamberlain discusses magic realism as a bridge uniting the otherwise mutually exclusive domains of realism and postmodernism. Welsh D. Everman attends to postmodern science fiction, commonsensically noting that speculative fiction is "overtly nonrepresentational" insofar as its words cannot point beyond themselves because its paper worlds do [End Page 333] not, by definition, exist outside the text. Geoffrey Green's "The Extremities of Realism" deals with writers for whom "the very nature of reality is . . . seen to depend on the way in which its discrete elements are depicted" and whose fiction presents reality as "at times unreal." John Hellman discusses the work of Didion, Herr, Mailer, Wolfe, and Thompson as journalism that approaches public fact through "a frank, obtrusive, liberated assertion of private consciousness," hence postmodern. Jerome Klinkowitz follows with two essays, the first a sort of précis of The Self-Apparent Word, the second viewing novels written during and about the Vietnam war as postmodern insofar as their authors felt the need to generate new techniques to capture that war's unprecedented reality. Sarah Lauzen's "Notes on Metafiction" offers an exhaustive list of metafictional devices, finding metafiction a formal, not an historical, term and hence not exclusively a postmodern phenomenon. Thomas LeClair follows, defining "postmodern mastery" as mastery of extraliterary experience as much as of formal techniques and providing extended readings of JR and Ratner's Star as exemplary postmodern masterworks. Fred Moramarco and Ron Silliman analyze the relation of postmodern prose and poetry, Moramarco tracing shared themes and aesthetic innovations, Silliman describing the work of those prose stylists working the border between poetry and prose. Martina Sciolino's "Mourning, Play, and the Forms of Fiction in Europe" delineates the shared characteristics of the fiction of Beckett, Goytisolo, Calvino, Butor, Borges, Eco, D. M...


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