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64Rocky Mountain Review CHARLES CARAMELLO. Silverless Mirrors: Book, Self & Postmodern American Fiction. Tallahassee: Florida State University, 1983. 25Op. This is a difficult and trying book about a difficult and troubled subject: structuralist criticism and the contemporary literature it concerns itself with. Borrowing heavily the language as well as the ideas and the names commonly passed around in these circles, Caramello tries to draw a number of related points into a thesis that, because he deals with literature carefully selected and interpreted to support his argument, barely escapes tautology, as he admits. His argument is that contemporary critical theory, particularly from the French, has caused postmodern American fiction to challenge traditional views of the relationship between literature and reality, among book, author, and reader; on the other hand, under the influence of its literary predecessor, modernism, and its peculiarly American heritage, that same fiction, uneasy in its challenge, seeks to reaffirm those same traditions. The result is ambivalence, an intellectual tug-of-war. Encouraged by their reading of contemporary literary theory, some American fiction writers have come to question the reality of reality, to conflate the realities of their fictional worlds with the world they live in, so that book, author, and reader are said to co-exist within a "story" that purports to be the only reality for the occasion, a world of words. The identity of the author, once sought and established through his writing, now disappears into the "Text," to be established anew for each of many readings. Rather than a mirror reflecting human experiences, postmodern fiction becomes an experience in itself, an instrument with "selfreflexivity " instead of reflection. But modern literature and the American tradition simultaneously pressure the writer toward an affirmation of self and a search for values in an external world. The result, for these postmoderns , is paradox. To support his argument, Caramello calls upon representative structuralist critics, mostly Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes; upon Melville, Whitman, and Henry James; upon selected moderns, especially Joyce; and upon four or five contemporaries — John Barth, William Gass, Kenneth Gangemi, Ihab Hassan. It is an unsurprising collection, yet feels artificial, for Caramello takes great liberties to prove little, and in the process manhandles the major writers to tell us about the minor ones, who have already gone to great pains to say it for themselves. One of the sad facts about postmodern American fiction is that its most avid proponents, in spite ofthemselves, are so deeply studied in the intellectual airs of their critics that they tangle themselves in their fiction with their criticism. All the while, however, they call for literature with a body: "the human muse, full up, erect and on the charge, impetuous and hot and lewd and wild like Messalina going to the stews, or those damn rockets streaming headstrong into the stars" (100, quoting Gass). Spare of subject, they make stories out of their act of writing and worry us along with them, pondering the very possibility of what they do. Apparently they would prefer wild Messalina: less self-consciousness, less intrusion from their own awareness of the philosophical questions about their activity that they inherited in this postKantian , positivistic, phenomenological world. It is indeed a world confused about its own ontological, epistemological, and Book Reviews65 ethical foundations. It is a direction of thought taken to such an extreme that one of its main spokesmen can deny the possibility of history, communication, even otherness: "The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed ; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genius, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of language" (74, quoting Barthes). Ironic, that a view starting from the premises that everything is change and all experience is interpreted and possible through a priori understanding must conclude that nothing is real and knowable but the fleeting instant of interpretation, therefore nothing really: as if Zeno's arrow in flight were only a collection of an infinite number of static, self-contained, self-conscious monads...


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