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Book Reviews 121 enlighten our understanding of a multitude of issues. To paraphrase Abbie Hoffman: "Read this book." John N. Ingham Universllyof Toronto •••••• Gordon E. Slethaug. 11zePlay of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction. Southern Illinois University Press. 1993. In T11e Play of the Double, Gordon Slethaug explores the manifestations of the "double"-structural, thematic, psychological-illustrated in a selection of "post-modem" American novels. The essays comprising The Play of the Double provide an exhaustive and useful survey of the kinds of doubling present in each text. (Slethaug's reading of GravitysRainbow is particularly illuminating.) However , Slcthaug's unsurprising selection of Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, John Hawkes, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, and Richard Federmanas representative writers is disappointing, given the plethora and proliferation of postmodern writing. Prospective readers of The Play of the Double are advised to consult the summarizing postscript first, for it is here that Slethaug's thesis is most clearly articulated . "The epistemology that characterized the premodern and modem double depended upon a discourse of unity ... postmodernism has demolished this previous epistemology" (187-88), explains Slethaug. As a result, the device of the double has expanded in significance and "broken through the cocoon of allegory and realism, emerging as a new and beautiful form" (188). The Play of the Double describes this development: no longer "a specific signifier," the double becomes "a field of discourse" (187). Chapters on Nabokov's Despair, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Brautigan's Hawkline Monster, Hawkes's Blood Oranges, Barth's Lost in the Funhouse, and Federman'sDouble or Nothing outline this shift in treatments of the double. After a contextualizing prescript ("the double in postmodern fiction explores a divided and discontinuous self in a fragmented universe" [3]), The Play of the Double opens with a chapter on "The History of the Double: Traditional and Postmodern Versions." Slethaug surveys representations of the double in classical literature and mythology; he also traces its development through Western literature of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, and discusses 122 Canadian Review of American Studies the usefulness of Freudian, Jungian, and Lacanian psychoanalytical analysis for an exploration of literary doubles. Slethaug defends the significance of "manifest doubles," which, he claims, are dismissed by psychoanalytic literary critics as "meretricious, aesthetically inferior, and too transparent to be taken seriously " (15). This defensive move lays bare the book's hidden agenda: beneath a patina of poststructuralist discourse, The Play of the Double offers traditional biographical and thematic criticism. For instance, Slethaug repeatedly casts himself in the role of apologist for the writers he discusses: "Nabokov did not accept literature as a means to explore social issues .... For him, literature revealed no mediate or ultimate truth ... (33). "Pynchon is of the opinion that ... " (190-91). "This is what Barth means when he says ... (139). "Federman would argue that ... " (186). For someone attuned to the constructed nature of identity and the duplicitousness of language, Slcthaug demonstrates a remarkable faith in the discourse of authorial intentions. Slethaug's bias toward a thematic or even moral criticism tends to dominate his readings, as when he discusses the "drug culture" in Hawkline Monster, concluding that "Brautigan possibly hints that drugs lead to a solipsistic narcissism of a destructive sort" (161). (What is the reader to make of Slethaug's assertion that the mutual masturbation of two characters in Blood Oranges "rais[es] further questions about this relationship" [113]?) And at times, Slethaug's view of postmodernist techniques is regrettably constrained: Federman is described as "one of a new breed of literary disrupters" since he "ignores traditional narrative discourses, reveals the 'captivity of formulas,' and exposes the process of fabrication" (170). But, were not "literary disrupters" of this kind writing long before the twentieth century? Stem and Carlyle {not to mention Chaucer and Cervantes) lurk like sadly forgotten ancestors behind Slethaug's ahistorical argument . The Play of the Double could have benefitted from more thoughtful editing. Footnotes are organized according to a cumbersome combination of MLA style and Chicago style documentation: a numbered note in the body of the text sends the reader first to an abbreviated reference in a chapter-by-chapter list at the end of the book, and then to a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 121-123
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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