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HUMANITIES 167 difficulty of writing a biography of Leacock that would justify itself with something truly new: 'The reticence Leacock displayed and inspired among those who knew and wrote about him continued unbroken throughout his life. It still stands between him and anyone attempting to understand the importance of his family to him. It is especially difficult to pierce this barrierin the late 1920S, when Beatrix [his wife] died and Stevie [his son] was seriously ill.' As a result of the condition that they describe, the Moritzes can only repeat what has long been known of Leacock from the numerous biographies, reminiscences, and oral histories. Imagination, perhaps imaginative writing, may be required ifwe are to proceed further in our understanding of Leacock's life. A biography that would illuminate, not the husband-wife relationship, but the ambivalent mother-son relationship would be most welcome. A book that would approach Leacock through the eyes of his only and dwarfish son Stevie, who was a pathetic parody of his father, would be worth its price. (GERALD LYNCH) Ronald Binns. Malcolm Lowry Contemporary Writers Series. Methuen. 96. $4ยท75 paper Ronald Binns's Malcolm Lowry is partofa series on major post-war writers, the intention of which is 'to map the contemporary, to describe its aesthetic and moral topography' (p 6). Although his study is concise and articulate, it suffers from two major defects: fust, despite its desultory use of post-modernist terminology, it remains a primer to Lowry'S fiction rather than a new reading; second, as far as primers go, it is neither as illuminating nor as comprehensive as, say, Richard K. Cross's Malcolm Lowry: A Preface to His Fiction (1980) or Richard Hauer Costa's Malcolm Lowry (1972). The work consists of four main parts. In the first chapter Binns discusses the Lowry myth, mixing biographical summary with critical analysis of the pre-Volcano fiction. The next two chapters are devoted to Under the Volcano, considering its modernism in relation to self and form respectively. The final chapter considers the post-Volcano fiction, in which, Binns suggests in his preface, we should discover 'not autobio- . graphical indulgence but jouissance, experimental rigour, an exemplary inventiveness' (p 9). Here the metafictional perspective Binns offers is enlightening even though it can in no way explain away the aspects of egregious self-indulgence that many readers detect in some of Lowry's later stories. The appendix on the cinematic version of Under the Volcano provides a sound evaluation of the film. The general problem with Binns's analyses resides in the persistent disparity between critical language and critical performance. It is unhelpful merely to be told that Lowry is acutely aware of 'the fictionality of narrative: 'the suffocating pressure ofliterary tradition' (p 16), the lack of transparency and innocence in writing (p 20), and the fact of a reader's being the producer rather than the consumer of a text (p 32). One must be shown how this awareness affects the rhetoric of his fiction. This is not to imply that the theories of Barthes, Derrida, Bloom, and others should not be applied to Lowry's fiction. However, if the critic chooses to deploy a theoretical vocabulary, he has an obligation to show how intertextuality, for example, actually functions in the fiction, how Lowry betrays an anxiety of influence. Binns drops the relevant post-modernist cliches and then, with an inadvertent sense of both bathos and inflation, proceeds to discuss Lowry's dramatization of 'antago,1istic Weltanschauungen' - 'the man of action' versus 'the man of comtemplation' (pp 21-2) . In his discussion of Under the Volcano Binns rightly points out that the novel involves 'an interpretation and overlapping of the magical and the social historical, the metafictional and the realistic, the world of the book and the world of the reader ... naturalism and dream' (pp 59-60). He concludes that the novel is a 'resistant artefact' which confronts the reader with 'absolute opacity or, conversely, a baffling plurality of meanings' (p 62). Thus, 'to talk about levels of meaning in Under the Volcano is to imply hierarchies of meaning. But encyclopedism is a narrative mode which resists the privileging of meaning' (p 63...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 167-168
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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