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254Reviews Chénetier, Marc. Critical Angles: European Views of Contemporary American Literature. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1986.251 pp. Cloth: $21.95. It is some time now since the reputation of an American writer needed to be confirmed or even, as in the celebrated case of Edgar Allan Poe, reinvented, in Europe. Despite the excitement that has accompanied new linguistic or narratological theories, Marc Chénetier contents in his introduction to this collection of thirteen essays by critics representing France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Great Britain, only conservative scholarship continues to flourish on both sides of the Atlantic. To gain recognition, the voices of innovative fiction have had to depend on a selective network of writers and critics, and it is with these voices—Walker Percy, Jonathan Baumbach, Guy Davenport, William Gaddis, Gilbert Sorrentino, William Gass, Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, John Ashbery, A. R. Ammons, David Mamet, and Sam Shepard among them—that this volume enthusiastically deals. The book is divided into two parts, the first more theoretical in scope, given over to methodology and genre. In the second part, the approach is more narrowly applied to exemplary texts. What unifies the two, however, is a rejection of what Chénetier terms "humanistically inclined commentaries" and a corresponding "totality" of approach that regards the cultural orientation of the critic as having limited value. Consequently the essays bring to their subjects little sense of social, historical, or political context or of literature as a moral force. They deal with signifiers and signifieds rather than character or motive. Not surprisingly, the thrust of much of the criticism is ontological. It deals with the attempt to discover what is real and what the boundaries of fiction are, often an issue that turns on the relations between author and reader. Though few of the critics represented here will be familiar to American readers, the deconstructive or poststructural approach they adopt has by now become fairly prominent and the presiding influences—Baudrillard, Benveniste, Genette, Derrida, Lacan, Iser—easily recognizable. Accordingly, even those essays which attemp to determine links with a literary tradition—Alide Cagdemetrio's updating of strategies of mimesis or Hartwig Isernhagen's attempt to establish the continuity between modernism and postmodernism—reflect what Cagdemetrio identifies as the degree of involvement with showing the arbitrariness of any discourse, that is, showing the rules which betray the compromise between reality and illusion that structures any literary text. In the one essay given over to poetry, for example, EIlman Crasnow finds the merging of figure and ground undermining the apparent configuration of the text. Heide Ziegler examines the narrative strategies which bring author and reader to an intertext within the borders of fiction while Nancy Blake's discussion of Guy Davenport's Da Vinci's Bicycle advances the view that in reconstructing the image of fictive identity, writing carries on a "necessary relationship with the absence of being" (p. 150). Reference to absence appear in most of the essays and remain, perhaps, the central critical notion of the volume, the absence of the author, characters, beliefs, meanings, norms, even as in Claude Richard's study of Walker Percy, the absence or, as Richard puts it, the exile of language. In an essay indebted to Wolfgang Iser's view of the deformations through which language makes itself felt, Marc Chénetier maintains that the implied menace of Raymond Carver's fiction is a function of events that do not occur, things that do not happen, and that Carver's often remarked realism is, in fact, limited to an imitation of the gap in experience itself, an "emptying of the narrative moment" that yields situations progressively destabilized leading to irresolute endings. Writing of Donald Bartheleme, Regis Durand extends this notion of absence to the subject , which he finds displaced from the text to the act of reading. Intelligibility, Durand remarks, is at best a fantasy; more commonly it reflects a desire to impose total control. In contrast to the epiphanies of modernist fiction, criticism that responds solely to the working of the text against itself proves subject to the same conditions of unintelligibility. Surrounded by Studies in American Fiction255 a thicket of abstract nouns, the essays are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 254-255
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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