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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 to Walker Percy, our writers have explored the changing shapes of a history that has been set free from the confines of outside experience to become "identified with the process of consciousness" itself (p. 61). In this process, the richness and variety of our history, as much as the plenitude of American literature, has become the proper subject for the speculative commentary of the critic who would appear as a man of national letters. In just that role, Professor Simpson fits comfortably, whether reading line by line through the Declaration of Independence or weighing the symbolic possibilities of Lancelot. His prose is rich in thought, and each of these essays seems to be built upon a quiet mastery of all the literary evidence. On balance, my conviction that an accurate index would have made the whole volume more easily accessible—especially to readers unfamiliar with the author's earlier work—amounts finally to no more than a minor reservation about the editorial wisdom of L.S.U. Press. Without question, this is an important collection. It should be read by everyone interested in American fiction. Northeastern UniversityEarl N. Harbert Schaub, Thomas H. Pynchon: The Voice ofAmbiguity. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1981. 165 pp. Cloth: $13.50. Thomas Schaub joins the swelling chorus of Pynchon criticism by celebrating Pynchon 's song, his complex and ambiguous harmonies. Schaub's work joins recent books by Cowart, Fowler, Mackey, Plater, Siegel, and Stark, and his is clearly one of the better pieces, addressing the central issue in reading Pynchon: the disorienting ambiguity. Schaub focuses on Pynchon's ambiguity, his complexity, which requires a judicious reader willing to forgo certainty. His characters and his readers try to construct unities out of discrete particulars, but such attempts always fail: "His characters are caught in the dissonance between the literal and the abstract, for the transformations of their experience never advance them into absolute Meaning . . ." (p. 16). Pynchon implies a fourth dimension , but does not reify it, for it is not directly accessible to mere mortals. In succeeding chapters Schaub ranges widely among science, religion, psychology, sociology, literature, proceeding with a kind of associative logic that at times makes him difficult to follow. But reading him is worth the effort. Early on Schaub covers familiar ground, as when he discusses entropy and ambiguity in The Crying of Lot 49. He clarifies, for instance, the relationship between thermodynamic and information entropy, one negative, the other positive: "In both, entropy is a measure of disorganization, but in information theory disorganization increases the potential information which a message may convey, while in thermodynamics entropy is a measure of the disorganization of molecules within closed systems and possesses no positive connotation" (p. 21) . And in discussing ambiguity Schaub notes how Lot 49 is metaphoric, "existing in the middle between inside and outside, between a reductive literalism in which words are mere tools standing for things, and a speculative symbolism in which Studies in American Fiction121 words are signs capable of pointing toward realities which transcend those signs" (p. 38). Schaub then discusses allusions to film, Jung, Weber, myth, mathematics—all flirting with continuity and unity as Schaub teases out their significance. He also notes opposing conceptions of history, the cyclical and the linear, the first described by Eliade, the second espoused by Pavlov. All appear in Gravity's Rainbow but, as with all else, no perspective receives complete endorsement. Even Enzian's attempts to complete a cycle by firing the 00001 rocket, though desirable, may be doomed to failure. Schaub's two final chapters are perhaps his most original. In "Reading Pynchon" he discusses the role of the reader in Pynchon...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 120-121
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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