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RITA FERRARI The Innocent Imagination in John Hawkes' Whistlejacket and Virginie: Her Two Lives ccoRDiNG t? John hawkes, "the poles of the authorial self, or . of the self that creates something out of nothing, are precisely these: cruelty, or ultimate power, and innocence."1 It is this combination of cruelty and innocence informing all of Hawkes' novels that constitutes their unremitting tension as self-indicting celebrations of the imagination. For Hawkes, the writing of fiction requires "absolute detachment" and the attempt "to create a world, not represent it . . . the creation ought to be more significant than the representation."2 Such a statement seemingly privileges the authority of the writer and the autonomy ofthe work ofart in contradistinction to more traditional mimesis. Hawkes' fiction is mimetic insofar as he wants "to imitate the interior journey," which for him means finding "all the fluid germinal, pestilential 'stuff of life itself as it exists in the unconscious. "3 Applying Hawkes' aesthetic formulations to his work suggests that it is the bodying forth of inner reality that releases cruelty in his fictional worlds and that the language that creates this reality is innocent. Yet innocence so conceived remains abstract, if not obscure, and, indeed, Hawkes' many formulations of innocence within his corpus are themselves often elusive . I wish to analyze innocence as a thematic and textual concern in two of Hawkes' most recent novels in order to illuminate how Hawkes' championing of the artistic imagination does not rest in valorization, but rather works to examine the processes ofart and the ends it serves. Arizona Quarterly Volume 46 Number 1, Spring 1990 Copyright © 1990 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 004-1610 io6Rita Ferrari In addition to being noted for their authorial detachment, Hawkes' novels are often referred to, by critics and by Hawkes himself, as visionary . Hawkes' 1988 novel, Whistkjacket, specifically focuses on artistic vision as it constitutes the image in paintings, photographs, and language , and in so doing examines the ways in which artistic and authorial power is deployed within a network of sexual and cultural relations. In this novel, the paradox of authorial power coexisting with authorial innocence itself coexists with the enactment of male, or phallic, power and its simultaneous critique. Virginie: Her Two Lives (1981) also performs this self-reflexive examination, which it facilitates by embodying authorial power and authorial innocence in two separate figures. Along with Whistkjacket, Virginie involves Hawkes' modernist desire to create ex nihiio in the complex issues of authority and representation significant to postmodern texts. Whistkjacket foregrounds the problem of narrative construction prominent in Hawkes' work from the narrative dislocations of the early novels to the unreliable, manipulative first-person narrators of the later ones. These first-person narrators embody artistic metaphors, for as the authors of their stories they are creators. In addition, these male narrators , and often other male characters, have specific aesthetic interests , often expressed in an addiction to collecting or producing erotica or pornography, "the common man's art," as Hawkes would have it. Michael, the narrator of Whistkjacket, differs from Hawkes' other narrators , however, in being not only narrator-as-artist, but a professional artist, a fashion photographer who focuses much of his narration on describing his art. There is little at stake for Michael, a man who is "generally fortunate enough not to feel strong emotions" (136).4 He is not trying to expiate guilt, recreate a lost paradise, or attain control of a life in which he finds himself a slave to chaos rather than master of his fate. He is neither the sex singer nor sex aesthetician we find in The Blood Oranges; he is simply an aesthetician. Significantly, the language ofWhistiejacket is the most lucid, but least exciting and least consciously performative, of that in any of Hawkes' novels. It is the structure that is very consciously performance, that is explicitly construction. Michael tells us in the first chapter, for instance, that the "photographic scenes that follow . . . are arranged chronologically" (4). Time will be contracted into images of time and these images will be arranged in a The innocent Imagination107 sequence, and the novel is for the most part constructed by a series of photographs which Michael...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 105-129
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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