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Studies in American Fiction119 genius to have virtually covered them all as he sets the stage for his longer individual analyses. Hence, to explain Barthelme, Hicks tells us about the fiction of Gass, Sukenick, and Coover; Ishmael Reed, Clarence Major, and Imamu Amiri Baraka figure in the placing of Ernest Gaines; Vonnegut is, of course, the Dutch uncle of Brautigan, just as Kerouac prefigures Kesey; and Jerzy Kosinski's fictions can hardly be discussed without an awareness of Mailer and Burroughs. One gets a good composite picture of contemporary American fiction from this broadly synthetic book. "Metafictionists tend to regard everything about them as man-created, as fiction" (p. 22), hence the peculiar world-vision of Donald Barthelme, whose characters are trapped in language as often as they, or their narrator, use it. There is, however, a way out (Barthelme is an American, after all): "To live freely, as a work of art or as a man, one must create himself constantly" (p. 36), and Barthelme's later fictions do this eminently well. Black writers are themselves victims of a constricting systematic vision, and so Ernest Gaines is celebrated for his refashioning of history (through mythic and folk materials) to put his protagonists (and himself) back in control. Counterculture writers of the period are notoriously, even deliberately short on practical vision; their revolution is not the same as the Black writers'. Instead, they are intent on creating a sensibility; this, and not a practical program, creates their own appeal and screens out what they themselves find distasteful. As for the terror of modern life, Jerzy Kosinski makes it palatable by conducting his novels in the form of "philosophical examinations" (p. 195). His protagonists are created by the posing of oppositions; of all the writers studied, he is the most didactic yet the most compelling to read. Hicks mentions that part of his book was drafted during a Fulbright to Paris. The book is amazingly free of French theory, to its credit; but on one point Barthes, Derrida, and Kristeva could have helped. Hicks believes it to the fictionists' discredit that they are unable to deal realistically with social materials, displaying "a broad lack of belief in the imagination's ability or need to transmute social reality to any higher form" (p. 8). "Young American writers of the 1960s and 1970s were absorbed in their own personal and subcultural experiences," Hicks explains (p. 13), which is only partly correct. French theorists have described recent culture's distrust of the monological novel, that authoritative document which presumes to teach readers what reality is. The Death of the Book and the Birth of Writing is how the French describe our era, a thesis wonderfully complementary to Jack Hicks's own fine thoughts in this helfpul and reliable book. University of Northern IowaJerome Klinkowitz Simpson, Lewis P. The Brazen Face of History: Studies in the Literary Consciousness in America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980. 276 pp. Cloth: $20.00. Careful readers of Professor Simpson's earlier books—especially The Man of Letters in New England and the South: Essays on the History of the Literary Vocation in America (1973)—will not be disappointed with this new volume. It is full of excellent material, spread through fourteen studies (thirteen chapters and a long "Coda" titled "The Act of Thought in Virginia") that should be added to everyone's list of required readings about the literary vocation as it has been practiced in America since the Revolution. Most of these have appeared elsewhere, often in somewhat different forms; collected here, they make a powerful statement about the importance of history. In Simpson's words, "the 120Reviews American phase of modern history fundamentally represents," in a literary vocabulary of metaphor and symbol, "the climactic stage of mind's willful transference of nature, man, and society—and eventually of God, and finally of mind itself—into itself" (p. xii). In The American Scene, Henry James first characterized "the American phase" as "the brazen face of history." Lewis Simpson now opens these words (in the manner of the preacher) to study a whole series of rich interpretations of national writers and classic American documents. From Benjamin Franklin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 119-120
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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