- Editor’s Introduction
Here is an issue that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and yet it follows a circular pattern. It opens and closes with considerations of murder, criminal suspects and potential assassins, giving us the insight that the art of the novel, and art itself perhaps, are products of sensational investigations that owe something to the ruminations of detectives. Artists love serial killers, while unreliable narrators turn out be criminals, even when they kill themselves. Taking her cue from Pierre Bayard’s witty analysis of Agatha Christie’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? Sari Kawana deploys a complex narrative game to argue that the death of the eponymous cat who narrates the story of Natsume Sōseki’s groundbreaking I Am a Cat is due to foul play. Vaclav Paris’s review of Surrealism and the Art of Crime by Jonathan Eburne returns to the world of crime as exploited for artistic and literary ends by the Surrealists, while James D. Gifford introduces us to the web of personal interactions facilitated by Villa Seurat, where Herbert Read, Henry Miller and Lawrence Durell would meet to collaborate and reject the strict politicization of a previous generation, thus provoking a shift in the Anglo-Saxon avant-garde. Indeed, crime and transgression may lead to detection as a form of hermeneutics, as well as to anarchist praise of rebellion against any established order.
I note that the first essays in this issue treat three first novels: Natsume Sōseki’s masterpiece (1905) that durably impacted Japanese novel writing, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (1950), whose cinematic fortune is well-known, and Michel Houellebecq’s controversial Whatever (1994). Each of these novels is in a category apart. All three attack current definitions of subjectivity while tackling social ills—mostly, perhaps, in Houellebecq’s satire of modernity, which situates him in the group of nihilist critics of civilization, his novel pursuing the debunking of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night or of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. It is in this spirit that Joshua Lukin analyzes the myths of “Identity-Shopping” and “Self-Improvement” ironized by Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train” and that Carole Sweeny examines the connection between post-Fordist angst and Houellebecq’s disturbing narrative strategies.
As an antidote, we may turn to patterns of religious typology that inform the plot of A Room with a View. Lynne Walhout Hinojosa points out the dynamic function of Puritan typology in Forster’s masterpiece, showing that Mr. Emerson’s gospel of individual freedom harks back to a more traditional narrative of spiritual [End Page v] conversion. A similar crisis of language and trust in its ability to describe the world, the sense of a loss of communal values, connects Houellebecq and Forster. Yet language can point to the crisis by testing the viability of narrative forms or leading to a redemptive or regenerative thrust. This is what Kathryn Olsen demonstrates in her study of the main characters’ poetic idioms in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, in which she puts to use the phenomenological approaches of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. The same theoretical vocabulary helps David Addyman assess Beckett’s phenomenology of space and place. He brings it to bear on his most abstract and “placeless” prose texts like Texts for Nothing. Addyman’s analysis is furthered by Anthony Cordingley’s investigation of Beckett’s specific borrowings from classical philosophy and mysticism. Cordingley convincingly reconstructs a hitherto hidden intertextual network in which a somewhat eccentric Blaise Pascal figures prominently.
This concern with the languages of modernism and the transnational turn in the “new modernisms” is also manifested in Genevieve Abravanel’s article. She studies the role of American idioms and stereotypes in Joyce’s works, from “An Encounter” in Dubliners to the “Oxen of the Sun” episode in Ulysses. Such a drift toward linguistic disintegration and chaotic renewal is most apparent in Finnegans Wake. Sean Braune links Joyce’s etymological practices with a tradition that goes back to Lucretius’s atomic theory, Jarry’s proto-Dadaist creation of ‘pataphysics, Oulipian recipes for literary composition and the experimental poetics of...