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LINDA HUTCHEON The 'Postmodernist' Scribe: The Dynamic Stasis of Contemporary Canadian Writing Definitions of 'modernism,' from whatever perspective, seem to find it impossible not to take into account the fact that there is a paradox at its very core: that revolution in form was in part, at least, the result of a renewed questioning - by each of the arts- of the past traditions that had engendered it. In literature, the work ofJoyce and Eliot, to mention only the most obvious, focused attention on the creative process involved in the transformation of the old into the new. What, then, would be the difference between this kind of radicalized harking back to tradition and that of someone like, say, John Barth today, a writer who also looks into what he calls the 'treasure-house' of past literature, in order to discover the new, the novel? Barth has claimed that his infamous label the 'literature of exhaustion' should more accurately be renamed the 'literature of replenishment'1 or, even more succinctly, 'postmodernism.' Without entering into the current debate on the felicity (or infelicity) of that label, one can, however, profit from a look at the characteristics ofthe literature involved here. What is striking is not so much a departure from modernist techniques as an intensification and expanding of them. Many of today's novelists seem to delight in exploring not just the authorial process of their texts' creation-think of ltalo Calvino's Ifon aWinter's Night aTraveller- butalso (and this is what is newer) the parallel and equally necessary process of the texts' recreation in the mind of the reader. In recent novel criticism, this kind ofwork has come to be called 'metafiction' (fiction about fiction). It can be defined by the fact that it contains, and indeed constitutes, its own first criticalcommentary.Textuallyself-consciousaboutits mediumthat is, about its narrative and linguistic identity - metafiction is also overtly aware of the twin processes involved in its production: its creation and its reception. This same kind of self-reference, this acknowledging of conditions of existence, is also characteristicofotherart forms ofour time, including(as Stanley Cavell has argued)2 film. Butfilm is the offspring of an earlier but equally self-aware medium: photography. And if, as some claim, selfreflexivity does lead to a general breakdown of conventional boundaries between the arts,3 then we should not be too surprised to find novelists today looking to the visual media for new inspiration-both technical and UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 53, NUMBER J, SPRING 1984 284 LINDA HUTCHEON metaphorical. But why have so many Canadian writers, in particular, turned to the taking and viewing of photographs for analogues of literan; production?This self-conscious recourse to a fixed and fixing medium as a metaphor for creation is all the more surprising because of its often negative connotations: it is asifwriting fiction were to be considered- by analogy- an act of petrifying into stasis the dynamics of experience. But what could be the reason for the Canadian preoccupation with this particular metaphor? What in our culture has provoked its deployment? Perhaps it is to the novels themselves that we must look to learn the answer: in constituting its own first level of self-commentary, metafiction - in Canada as elsewhere - proves to be a most didactic genre. It makes clear, for instance, that there are new metaphoric equivalences drawn from new media, often visual and aural, for the written text: the fixity of the photograph, the illusory kinesis of the moving picture, the deceiving orality of the tape-recording. These images are habitually used in literature today to suggest something distanced, frozen, even dead, in a sense; the act of their creation, then, is a killing one: the reduction of dynamic process to static product. But our experience of this same literature, despite this thematized murder, is quite the contrary. There is also a reactivating, a resurrecting process, the novels teach us, and this is called the act of reading. Yet we do not read photographs. Why, then, the insistent recourse to that analogy in the work of Timothy Findley, Robert Kroetsch, and many others? For metafiction writers who are obsessed (as most are) with both the power...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 283-295
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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