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Reviews419 influence, variously called apocalyptic "gesture," "logic," "context," and in the grotesquely sustained metaphor of one essay, a "queuing" up of millenarians for the End. Murrin reproduces seventeenth-century commentators' interpretive moves in producing consistent prophetic application, noting a principle of polyvalency ignored by contributors who sometimes reveal rationalist disdain for the prophetic, especially if "hysterical" (p. 210). The paradigm of studied ambivalence is M. H. Abrams, whose workofRomanticism finds popular prophecy morally abhorrent unless it is "sophisticated and abstract" (p. 346). Many essays, virtual footnotes to Abrams's own project tracing secularized theology, predictably find "ambivalent" beliefs in dieir objects of study. Abrams's ideological agenda surfaces in a testy moment of liberal "relevance"—an allusion linking popular apocalypticism, a polarizing belief producing the desire to eliminate one's opposition, to the Holocaust and to the disruptive 1960s. An even more overt agenda animates the embarrassing parallel-hunting in The Communist Manifesto by Tuveson who, after describing certain millenarian parallels , announces that communism is "essentially" religious, and that we should therefore be able to identify its equivalent to the Messiah. A corrective to some habits of the new historicism, this scholarship lacks new historicism's "thick" description, rhetorical understanding of the documents, and even revelatory impulse. Like the essay describing eighteenth-century discomfort with "enthusiasm," itself displaying that discomfort, these essays, sharing the ambivalences they discover in the apocalyptic, simultaneously demonstrate their investment in keeping historiography nonrevelatory: it shall not be disrupted either by archive—revolution of fact—or by interpretation—revolution of perspective. Colgate UniversityDonald K. Hedrick Middle Grounds: Studies in ContemporaryAmerican Fiction, by Alan Wilde; xiv & 209 pp. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987, $24.95. "Midfiction," postmodern literature's supposedly excluded middle, is the subject ofMiddle Grounds. According to Alan Wilde, the midfictionists—most notably Max Apple, Thomas Berger, Stanley Elkin, Thomas Pynchon, Grace Paley, and Donald Barthelme—situate themselves midway between recent fiction's polar opposites, realism and metafiction. Referential but nonmimetic, self-conscious but not self-reflexive, midfiction constitutes a "literature ofinterrogation" (p. 5). At once problematic and attentive, it questions self and world without excluding either from the phenomenological equation. 420Philosophy and Literature Given the pervasive dualism inherent in structuralist and poststructuralist criticism (whose oppositions range from langue/parok to plaisir/jouissance), the notion of a tertium quid compels attention. Both as description and heuristic, however, Wilde's tripartite system offers minimal advantage over more familiar binary typologies. Indeed, in his eagerness to reify the concept of midfiction, Wilde plays the middle against both ends, arguing that midfiction is not only fundamentally different from realism and metafiction (both of which it clearly overlaps) but philosophically superior to them. Tendentiousness of this sort vitiates not only the readings of individual works but ultimately the theory as a whole, which gradually collapses under its own weight. Wilde's insistence on clinching as well as demonstrating his point is most apparent in what will be for many readers the focal chapter, "Shooting for Smallness: Realism and Midfiction." Here, midfiction becomes a club with which to beat die "catatonic realists" Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Joan Didion, whose work, Wilde argues, reveals die bankruptcy of "closed humanism" (p. 107). Having needlessly devalued these post-postmodern realists (whose work John Barth has termed "the most impressive phenomenon" on the current North American literary scene), Wilde needlessly overpraises dieir midfictional counterparts. Despite its New Yorker frothiness, the tide sketch in Donald Barthelme 's Overnight to Many Distant Cities (1983) emerges as the consummate midfiction, dianks to Barthelme's "ironically kinetic and intentional relation to the world" (p. 127). Similarly, Ted Mooney's single novel to date, a girl-meetsdolphin fantasy entided Easy Travel to Other Planets (1981), is said to embody die "open, projective humanism" (p. 123) that Wilde defends. Valuejudgments of this sort prompt one to question not only the author's reasoning, but his taste. The essence of midfiction is purportedly "suspensiveness," a neologism that Wilde defines in his earlier and on the whole more successful book Horizons of Assent: Modernism, Postmodernism, andtheIronicImagination (1981). Suspensiveness is a kind of postmodern negative capability, a willingness to accept "multiplicity, randomness, contingency, and even absurdity" as the human condition (Horizons , p...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 419-421
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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