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Modern American Fiction William R.Macnaughton, ed. CriticalEssays ... on John Updike.Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.308 + vm pp. Steven Mailloux.Interpretive Co~venti~ns_: The Reader in the Study of American F1ctzon. Ithaca: CornellUniversityPress, 1982.228pp. Steven Moore.A Reader's Guide to William Gaddis's"The Recognitions." Lincoln: Universityof Nebraska Press, 1982.337 + xipp. Craig HansenWerner.ParadoxicalResolutions: Ame1ican FictionSinceJames Joyce. Urbana: Universityof Illinois Press, 1982.237 + x pp. Roger G. Seamon Each ofthe books under review belongs to a separate genre of academic literary commentary.At one end of the ordinary spectrum (scholarship, criticism, theory) isSteven Moore's A Reader's Guide to William Gaddis's "The Recognitions ,"a work of scholarly annotation which also includes other material designed toassistthe puzzled reader of Gaddis' complex novel. There are two works ofcriticism,one a collection of reviews and essays on the works of John Updike, theother a suite of essays loosely tied together by the idea of James Joyce's influenceon various American writers. Lastly, Steven Mailloux's Interpretive Conventions:The Reader in the Study of American Fiction is a work of theory; itisan attempt to improve upon the formulations of reader-response theory offered by Culler, Iser and Fish. I wish not only to assess each work in the light ofitspurpose, but to comment upon some of the implications of each enterprise. Moore's guide to The Recognitions is, for the moment, a necessary companion for anyone intrepid enough to read seriously Gaddis' esoteric book. Moore provides an introductory essay, a synopsis of the action, annotations (which constitute the bulk of the volume and consist mostly of explanation of the pervasive allusions and quotations), three short pieces ofnon-fiction by Gaddis, the errata for the Avon edition and a bibliography ofGaddis' works and criticism of them. The introductory essay is of limited value because it emphasizes one strandin the novel, the alchemical meanings. While this is understandable Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1984, 337-348 338 Roger G.Seamon given the fact that the bulk of the allusions traced by Moore concern alchemy, it does not give a balanced account of the novel. This is especiallv important since The Recognitions has not yet found what Finnegans Wak~ got in Edmund Wilson's essay in The Wound and The Bow, a guideand appreciation that carries conviction. Moore's plot summary is more useful: the bewildered reader of an episode that neither follows from nor leadsto anything immediate can get reassurance that he has not lost the threadthere simply isn't any, and it is nice to know the details of the place whereone is lost. Reading through the plot summary leaves one as puzzled asbeforeas to what Gaddis is up to; still, one is grateful for what help this can give. I have not, of course, checked Moore's annotations completely, buta selected reading suggests that there are some glaring omissions despite Moore's claim of complete coverage. Gaddis compares Argus to a housefly, and the narrator asks whether Argus, like the housefly, moved "distracted from distraction by distraction" (Avon, p. 218). There is no gloss to thisline from "Burnt Norton:' and that is especially odd since Eliot is one ofthemost pervasive influences in The Recognitions. (In fact The Recognitions isan Eliotic work-allusive, haughty, religious, contemptuous of the modern.) Again, and more significantly, Esme meditates upon her art of poetry: "The words which the tradition of her art offered were by now in chaos, coerced through the contexts of a million inanities, the printed page everywhere opiate, row upon row of compelling idiocies disposed to induce stupor. coma, necrotic convulsion; and when they reached her hands they were brittle, straining and cracking, sometimes they broke under the burden which her tense will imposed, and she found herself clutching their fragments, attempting again with this shabby equipment her raid on the inarticulate" (Avon, pp. 320-21).Since Moore himself describes the novel as "Gaddis'stour of the Waste Land" (p. 6)it is odd indeed that this passage remains unglossed. The failure to identify these passages within the 100-page section I checked (and I do not claim a great memory of literary texts...


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