- Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame
Edited by Jan Cronin and Simone Drichel, Frameworks: Contemporary Criticism on Janet Frame proposes fresh or refreshed angles of approach to Janet Frame's oeuvre which, in their accumulation, work less to frame than to unframe Frame from the smothering bag of unself-critical (biographical, nationalist, social-realist) criticism. The volume consists of nine essays organized into three sections: "Meta-Critical Frame(s)," which contains Cronin's and Lawn's essays; "Metaphysical Frame(s)," to which Wevers, Smaill, Baisnée, and Michell have contributed; and "Beyond the Frame(s) of Representation," which is made up of essays by Delrez, Prentice, and Drichel. Considering that the titles of all three subsections contain the word "beyond" (or the prefix "meta"), one may do worse than to chart interpretations of the "beyond" in the different contributions to provide a quick overview of the volume and, possibly, point to discussions that are likely to surface in the next few years. [End Page 244]
Starting with Cronin's perception that the author regularly recycles the "parable of the cave" (15) and with Delrez's argument that the conquered surfaces of our reality are "signposted with the markers of an external dimension felt to exist beyond the frame of representation" (141), we could easily imagine that, in Frame, those who live by the rules of conquered surfaces dwell in the shadow world, Plato's cave. It is at this juncture that contemporary Janet Frame criticism subdivides into two discrete schools of thought. The transcendentalists (or Delrezian school, as I call them), all seem to agree that Frame's "remedial scale" is, by definition, "transcendental" (Delrez 143) so that the self who attempts to peep at "the transcendent Good" (Drichel 202) is necessarily seeing mere "reflections of his [or her] own representations" (Cronin 17). In transcendental readings, Frame's humanity is left to contend with a shadow world from which it is impossible to escape.
Equally aware of the insulation of the self, the proponents of the second school, whom I call the existentialists, consider that beyond the cave is the outside world. Whether this outside world is, in turn, fitted with a transcendent beyond is, for the most part, not these readers' concern. In Smaill's analysis, then, our neo-Platonist cave is the refuge of the self who seeks to escape from the extreme "facticity" (79) of things, and from the contingencies of Time and Death in "the objective world" (86), whereas authentic life is an "existential synthesis" between "one's subjectivity" and "the possibility of an externalized, objective point of view" (80). Frame's condemnation of "self-willed retreat into pure subjectivity" (Smaill 82) is but at a stone's throw from her deconstruction of full-fledged narcissism, as shown by Lawn, and intimations that an encounter with the other is the "integration of two seasons under one sky" (Lawn 43). Lawn's use of Freud connects well with Prentice's argument that seduction "constitutes/is constituted by cycles of reciprocity" (157) and with her Freudian slippage of the pen where Frame's Violet Pansy Proudlock is dubbed "Violent" Pansy Proudlock (164), which may well be a subliminal reminder of the violence associated with un-hybridized subjectivities. From the parallel that is established between Smaill's conclusion and Lawn's or Prentice's interpretations, emerges the idea that, in his or her rejection of the world, the self excludes not just the objective but also any foreign subjectivity, which means, in other words, that each self is utterly alone in his or her own narrow cave. Despite appearances, the selves who have hardened in chosen homegrounds of being are not necessarily the "self-possessed" or authentic in Wevers's reading for, as she explains, many Framean protagonists are not where they seem to be, at home in the present, which raises the question of where their selves are to be found (59). Indirectly responding to these considerations, Smaill shows that the longing to...