- Techniques for Living: Fiction and Theory in the Work of Christine Brooke-Rose
Christine Brooke-Rose has earned international attention as a postmodern fiction writer whose works are heavily influenced by poststructuralist theory. As Karen R. Lawrence demonstrates in Techniques for Living, however, such attempts to definitively categorize Brooke-Rose's textual achievements in terms of genre are potentially myopic and fail to address the important intersections engendered by her critical and literary works. Lawrence illuminates how Brooke-Rose's "strikingly original body of work" (192) reconstructs the relationship between theory and postmodernism by offering "survival strategies for the genre of the novel." These fictional strategies, in turn, create "new forms of telling the human story" within what Brooke-Rose herself calls the "unreality" of the postmodern world (190).
In Techniques for Living, Lawrence asserts that the relationship between narrative and theory in Brooke-Rose's work is "chiasmic," and argues that these interstices invite a closer investigation that will reveal—as she believes Brooke-Rose intends—"how theories tell stories and stories tell theory" (4). For Lawrence, the "techniques for living" promised by her book's title are to be located in the spaces between the intersection of theory and fiction in Brooke-Rose's work, [End Page 176] spaces within which the "rehearsal for living under the constraints of a new world" are demonstrated and ultimately tested (4). Learning these techniques for living, Lawrence assures us, will enable the development of "new fictional experiments" (5) capable of recording what Brooke-Rose "calls the 'unreal' reality of the post-traumatic second half of the twentieth century" (13). Driving the development of these fictional experiments, Lawrence suggests, is Brooke-Rose's own unique response to the "melancholy" of postmodernism: the experiments are "performed for the sake of finding new ways to theorize life and formulate conduct in a new world order" (5).
Each chapter of Techniques for Living explores the emergence of theory through narrative in the most prominent of Brooke-Rose's fiction: "The Foot," Out, Such, Between, Thru, Amalgamemnon, Xorandor, Textermination, and Subscript. As Lawrence demonstrates in her analyses of these works, Brooke-Rose's fictions create imaginative play spaces that deconstruct "the metaphysics of presence" in order to mimic the absences described by poststructuralist theory (3), thus evoking "the 'real' in a century in which reality has become 'unreal'" (148). Brooke-Rose creates these absences by positing various "deaths" (193)—"the death of the author, the death of the novel, the death of the narrator" (194). Through these deaths, Lawrence argues, Brooke-Rose explores the "constraints on language," which is the term she uses to describe the way that narrative technique "materializes theory"; these constraints, Lawrence suggests, "constrain as spurs to invention" (16).
Of the "new fictional techniques" that Lawrence attributes to Brooke-Rose, perhaps one of the most fascinating is her experimentation with science fiction. Dissatisfied with the genre's overreliance on the narrative techniques of realism, Brooke-Rose resists this tradition in her writing of Out, "a mutant narrative about mutation" (32). She rejects wholesale science fiction's reliance on past tense narration, and instead positions her characters in a narrative of the present, told by a "narrator-less narrator" that cannot access the past or imagine the future (213). As a result, history in the novel exemplifies a Jamesonian perspective, as it can only be accessed through prior interpretations of the past, as well as through the "indelible wound" that it leaves behind (32). Thus, Lawrence accedes, the plot itself becomes difficult to chart, due to the fact that it is impossible to know whether an event has occurred once and is repeatedly retold ("repetitive telling" ), or if the event happens and is recounted many times ("singulative telling" ). Brooke-Rose's experimentation with narrative technique in Out demonstrates what Lawrence identifies early on as the trademark of Brooke-Rose's work: the emergence, through fiction, of theory. And as Lawrence makes clear, opportunities for theory identification in Out abound: the novel itself [End Page...