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Judging by the quality of the eleven essays in the inaugural issue of Postmodern Fiction in Europe and the Americas, this series is a welcome venture into comparatist issues, broadly conceived and geographically wide ranging. The works covered go beyond the customary canon, even judging by comparatist standards. British, Canadian, Dutch, Italian, French, Slavic, Hispanic, Norwegian literatures are touched on, with essays by Brian McHale, A. Kibedi Varga, Arild Linneberg/Geir Mork, Wladimir Krysinski, Iris M. Zavala, Richard Todd, Geert Lernout, Anthony Mertens, Stefano Tani, and Julio Ortega.
Brian McHale succinctly recapitulates and reasseses stances toward the postmodern—Jean-François Lyotard's, Richard Rorty's, Hayden White's, Alan Wilde's, the Hassans'—by focusing on a combination story and critical essay by Max Apple, a judicious choice, given the range of critical discourses McHale summarizes.
Arild Linneberg and Geir Mork's "Antinomies of Nominalism: Postmodernism in Norwegian Fiction of the 1980s" deftly treats Adorno, Lyotard, Schoenberg, distilled into clarity. It includes music as literature and music in Norwegian literature and introduces authors deserving wider recognition. It also includes the world and human beings. "Why Schoenberg now, all of a sudden, we asked ourselves one day in December, while the fresh snow kept falling in an increasingly whiter silence." The atmosphere and their sense of criticism as an art form balance the endless loop of information they call onto the computer screen, through a computer program of demonic circularity returning remorselessly to the point of origin. The artfulness in this juxtaposition of the concreteness of their situation against the computer performs Adorno's "Offene Formen sind diejenigen allgemeinen [End Page 858] Gattungs-kategorien," "Open forms are general categories of genre which beg comparison with a nominalist critique of the general and in which the critique of the general founders. For the work of art's pretended unity fails to coincide with the specifics of experience." The computer cannot compete with the first snow and a silence not so much seminal or contemplative as worrisome. For if—several other of the essayists in the volume note this problem as well—postmodern deconstruction of form ends in reformulation, explicitly or implicitly (the antimony of nominalism of the title), then in practice the antitraditional generates a tradition, a tradition of the open system, but a system nonetheless. And there is no escaping the aphorism, "Without rules, no game." (Lyotard, 1979). The pickle for the postmodernist artist, then, is to dissolve even the open systems generated: the "meaning which must be dissolved," the form that must "negate itself." And yet even "open" systems end as establishment and name; somehow they ultimately offer fewer horizons than systemic openness suggests as possible.
Several essays temporize about postmodernism in the national literatures with which they deal, such as Krysinski's, Mertens', and Zavala's. Krysinski concludes his essay with, "If there is any specificity of Slavic literatures it does not point to metafiction as one of their dominant features." And although Zavala sees Hispanic authors repudiating "totality [read: marxism or socialism]," they cannot be said to employ explosive "heterodoxy, eclecticism, marginality, death of utopia [read: communism], death of the author, deformation, disfunction, deconstruction, disintegration, displacement, discontinuity, non-lineal view of history, dispersion, fragmentation, dissemination, rupture, otherness, decentering of the subject, chaos, rhizoma, rebellion, the subject as power, gender/difference/power. . . ." (This incomplete catalogue of earmarks tames postmodernism to the point that one misses the ruthless homing in of a Jean Baudrillard.)
In an excellent, concise essay, Julio Ortega contrasts Joyce's Finnegans Wake and García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. For Ortega, the self-referentiality of Finnegans Wake "totalizes." From its own body of language, it allegorizes a mythology and generates an...