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Reviewed by:
  • The Landscapes of Alienation: Ideological Subversion in Kafka, Céline, and Onetti, and: Socialism and the Literary Imagination: Essays on East German Writers
  • Kenneth Hughes
Jack Murray. The Landscapes of Alienation: Ideological Subversion in Kafka, Céline, and Onetti. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1991. 264 pp. $29.50.
Martin Kane, ed. Socialism and the Literary Imagination: Essays on East German Writers. New York: Berg, 1991. $44.50.

In The Landscapes of Alienation, Jack Murray draws upon theories of Fredric Jameson, Bertell Ollman, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to analyze the ways in which the spaces represented in Amerika, Journey to the End of the Night, and The Shipyard construct the sense of alienation that pervades these novels. He begins with the idea that the canonic realist methods of depiction, far from being "objective" in representation, are weighted in the service of a "macro-ideology transcending both capitalism and Marxism," essentially the ideology of the monological order of Deleuze and Guattari's "Urstaat," the "Asiatic despotic formation" of which all political systems are merely reincarnations. But, he argues, the three novels, within their basically realist patterns, deploy antirealist strategies that enable them to critique that order (the "ideological subversion" of the subtitle). Thus Kafka exposes the inhumanity of capitalism, Céline reveals that monopoly capital "colonizes" all of humanity, and Onetti uncovers the absurdity of the capitalist model in one of the New World colonies.

Essential to Murray's method is Jameson's theory that an author narrativizes what is essentially political experience. This is why Murray sees his subjects as minority writers in Deleuze and Guattari's sense: the German-writing Jew inhabiting an island in a sea of Czech-speaking Christians (and in this context it [End Page 973] is unimportant that Kafka's Czech was also more than merely serviceable) and the "colonial" Uruguayan writing in the cultural tradition of the Old World. Murray's attribution of minority status to Céline is a bit strained, for obvious reasons, but he does make a case for it on the basis of Céline's déclassé family origins, his fantasy of illegitimacy, and the rather déclassé French he crafted, and so he sees him as a minority writer "in a voluntary and ideological way."

Murray's analysis of the novels follows their subversion of the dominant myth of capitalism, the Horatio Alger success-story with its utopian implications, and its replacement by the "countermyth" of the Fall and the revelation that the spaces are essentially dystopias in which the protagonists can make no headway against the ultimate order that keeps them and everyone else in check and that displaces the struggle against it to a fight against adversaries: the Oedipalized father-figure in Kafka, the pervasive metaphor of rot and flowing in Céline, and the female as scapegoat for the failure of a male utopia in Onetti. Murray correlates these elements of plot with techniques of distortion in form that tend to undermine realism: the "oneiric" mode of Kafka, in which the innocent perspective of the "booby-hero" protagonist defamiliarizes the spaces he visits; the "caricatural" mode of Céline, whose narrator retrospectively focalizes the world with a cynicism bordering on delirium; and Onetti's "metafictional" procedure, in which the protagonist colludes in upholding a fiction within the fiction of the novel.

Murray's study is intelligent and thoughtful and is useful not only for the light it sheds on the ideologies of the novels he examines, but also for its wider theoretical suggestiveness. It also brings to greater prominence in the English-reading world the work of Juan Carlos Onetti, who many Latin American scholars have for some time seen as the most important precursor of "el boom" of the 1960s.

Socialism and the Literary Imagination is a rather overblown title for this broad collection of quite general essays by various hands. Necessarily widely divergent in interest and success, they were presented in their original form at a conference at the University of Kent in April 1989, the express purpose of which was, according to the editor, to enable a group of "enthusiasts of GDR literature" to put aside the overworked GDR...


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