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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue amadiemie d'etudes americaines Volume 27, Number 1, 1997, pp. 77-91 A Critical Context for the Carver Chronotope G.P. Lainsbury 77 Raymond Carver (1938-88) is often credited with single-handedly inspiring a renaissance of the short story in America, and with giving voice to a submerged population, who before his time had not been adequately recognized in the cultural space of American literature. 1 Carver devoted his whole career as a writer to working within two genres-the short story and the lyric poem-both of which are, within the context of late twentiethcentury literature and culture, assuredly minor artistic genres. And yet, in spite of working within these marginal genres, Carver somehow managed to create some major artistic and cultural effects. His writing has the ability to affect individual readers, including many who do not usually read literature, 2 and is a lightning rod for cultural and aesthetic debate surrounding issues of the writer's role in contemporary North American life. The institutional reception of Carver's work breaks down into two main camps. The first group responds very positively to Carver's work, and consists mainly of those writers who are grouped with Carver as minimalists, nee-realists, dirty realists, etc.-Richard Ford, Frederick Barthelme, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Jayne Ann Phillips, to name but a few. Associated with these literary practitioners are a number of academics, as well as a popular readership. Admirers of Carver's writing tend to cite the darity and straightforwardness of his prose, his ability to invest the ordinary with extraordinary intensity, as well as the implicit valorization of an experiential ground for writing over a theoretical one, as the source of its power. 78 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canad1enne d'etudes amlmcames Those who dislike, or distrust, Carver's work break down further into two main groups. First there are those who find Carver's vision of America much too bleak and pessimistic. This would include both editors who would not take a chance on publishing his first collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1978), in the 1970s, 3 and critics with a right-wing political agenda who, once Carver became a literary star, thought his work did not fit in with the ideological agenda of America in the 1980s. Far more deserving of serious consideration is the criticism of Carver's work which comes from the left wing of the political-academic spectrum, from those critics concerned with the problem of ideology and its propagation through the medium of literature. In his book The Political Unconscious: Narrative as Socially Symbolic Act, Fredric Jameson argues for a critical position which has implications for a preferred object of study as well as a preferred method of study. Jameson proclaims that ideology critique can no longer be content with its demystifying vocation to unmask and to demonstrate the ways in which a cultural artifact fulfils a specific ideological mission, in legitimating a given power structure, in perpetuating and reproducing the latter, and in generating specific forms of false consciousness (or ideology in the narrower sense). It must not cease to practice this essentially negative hermeneutic function ... but must also seek, through and beyond this demonstration of the instrumental function of a given cultural object, to project its simultaneously Utopian power as the symbolic affirmation of a specific historical and class form of collective unity. (1981, 291) Jameson calls for a criticism which goes beyond merely demonstrating the existence of the ideological matter carried suspended in the language-stream of a literary work, for a criticism which projects a utopian, counterideology to stand in active resistance to the hegemonic ideological discourse of late capitalism. It is not very far from Jameson's idea of an interventionist criticism to the idea of an interventionist literature, where a utopian alternative to the status quo is projected by the literary work itself, just waiting for the critic to arrive G. P. LamsburyI 79 to bring it to its fullest expression. This is the position from which the most astute, negative critics of Carver launch their various attacks on his work. For instance, Frank Lentricchia, in an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 77-91
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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