In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

L ’E s pr it C réa te u r sarily sacrifices detail to synthesis. Porush’s propositional contribution can be paraphrased as follows: a) “ Cybernetic fiction” is a discernible and potent force in modernist literature, b) The defining characteristic of the genre is that its texts must exhibit both the formal and thematic properties of a “ soft machine.” c) The metaphor of the soft machine, named after the Burroughs volume of the same title, refers broadly to any hypothetical mating of an intelligent organism and a logical system, d) The vehicle of the metaphor varies from work to work (writing contraptions, sentient satellites, cyborgs), but the tenor remains the same: determinism, or a comment on determinism, e) The evolution of the genre parallels the development of modern physics from certainty to uncertainty, and expresses itself in the narrative as a rise in self-reflexivity. Porush’s overriding concern with synthesis gives this reader pause to question whether his grouping principle is sufficiently complex to accommodate the works he treats. On p. 34, Porush argues that Roussel celebrates the marvelous paving machine of Locus Solus “ without irony.” But Canterel’s estate also houses a madman who incessantly recreates the death of his daughter through pathological motions analogous to those of the paver. Thus the machine has been humanized just as the human has been mechanized. Porush says (p. 86) that Vonnegut’s early novels “ do not resist the metaphor of cybernetics internally.” Yet the very name of the supercomputer in Player Piano (EPICAC XIV) sounds like a wellknown emetic. Porush (pp. 102-3) characterizes Burroughs’ “ Operation Re-Write” as a resistance to order through injection of entropy. This cybernetic description, in its abstrac­ tion, seems to disregard completely the seediness of Burroughs’ worlds. Since the control machine in “ The Mayan Caper” is explicitly said to have a sound and image track, and since murder is cathected with sodomy throughout Burroughs’ The Soft Machine, a much more specific metaphor is called for: something like "snuffing the snuff movie.” Porush writes (p. 149) that Barth “ identifies his authorship with the operations of a computer.” The minimum unit of narrative presence for Barth, however, is not narrator + computer, but narrator + companion, where the companion can be, e.g., a writer’s manual, a wife, a computer, an intelligent sperm, the story audience, or the tale itself. Porush’s account of Bartheleme’s “ The Explanation” is problematic too. What does ■ mean? A cybernetic black box? Si vous voulez. But the overall figure-ground relation in this story places the meaning of the symbol as close to Tzara, Epimenides, Orwell or Rorschach as it does to Norbert Wiener. Porush has indeed struck a blow for interdisciplinarity in this book. The Soft Machine complements Jeremy Campbell’s Grammatical Man in this respect, and distinguishes itself from J.-P. Changeux’s Neuronal M an—a contrasting theory of the “ hard machine.” Porush is a clear commentator of cybernetics, and the scope of his literary reading is impressive, although his interpretations seem to be subordinated to his overriding argu­ ment. It would have been interesting to see him convincingly disprove strong competing accounts (e.g., the cylinder-habitat as allegory of the human condition in Beckett’s The Lost Ones). More allowance for complexity would have established his concept of the soft machine as a necessary and constitutive structure, rather than a metaphor of convenience. F r a n k C o p p a y Union College, Schenectady, N Y Linda Klieger Stillman. A l f r e d J a r r y . Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983. Pp. 166. During the past several years, the term “ ubuesque” has infiltrated popular French and become a household word; a recent Parisian revival of Ubu Roi set the play in a contem­ 104 W i n t e r 1986 B o ok R eview s porary B.C.B.G. salon in the sixteenth arrondissement. Similarly, in Southern California, Ubu is now the revered anarchistic hero of the surf punks, and frequently appears in the notorious comic strips of Bill Griffith (creator of “ Zippy the Pinhead” ). While the sudden celebrity of Alfred Jarry may delight certain enthousiasts...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 104-105
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.