- John Banville and His Precursors ed. by Pietra Palazzolo, Michael Springer, and Stephen Butler
Edited by Pietra Palazzolo, Michael Springer, and Stephen Butler. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.
Born in Wexford in southeast Ireland in 1945, John Banville is recognized as one of the finest writers in English today: the author of a score of novels, some of which appear under his crime writing pseudonym of "Benjamin Black," Banville was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea, and has been tipped as a potential recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. John Banville and His Precursors examines Banville's generative engagements with literary and philosophical forebears, such as Samuel Beckett, Henry James, and Heinrich von Kleist, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Lacan, and Martin Heidegger. Of interest to Stevens scholars are two chapters in the "Literary Engagements" section, contributed by two of the book's editors: Pietra Palazzolo's "Afterlives of a Supreme Fiction: John Banville's Dialogue with Wallace Stevens" and Michael Springer's "The Limits of Simile: Rilke, Stevens, and Banville's Scepticism."
Palazzolo and Springer both extend what Peter Brazeau once called the "Irish Connection" with Stevens to Banville—a connection that was forged by the Irish poet and art critic Thomas McGreevy in 1948, and that would continue in Stevens's posthumous reception or afterlife in the work of the Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon and in the poetry and essays of the Irish-American Susan Howe. (For more on this Irish connection, see my essay in the previous issue of this journal.) Palazzolo and Springer explore the cross-generic influence of Stevens's poetry on Banville's fiction (also registered in the title of the Belfast novelist Brian Moore's The Emperor of Ice Cream ) by studying the close affinity with Stevens that Banville has acknowledged from Doctor Copernicus (1976) through The Blue Guitar (2015). Doctor Copernicus takes its epigraph from "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"—"You must become an ignorant man again / And see the sun again with an ignorant eye / And see it clearly in the idea of it" (CPP 329)—while the latter novel, whose painter-narrator excels "in the fine art of thieving" (3), takes its title and epigraph from "The Man with the Blue Guitar": "Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar" (CPP 135).
Palazzolo's chapter engages with Banville's philosophical and epistemological repurposing of Stevens in Doctor Copernicus, in which the astronomer's positing of a theory that may account for the observed motion of the planets, and that may thereby "save the phenomena" (29; italics in original), is conceived in imaginative rather than scientific or empirical terms as the projection of a supreme fiction. As Banville has put it, in a comment cited by Palazzolo, we can "only live by . . . necessary falsehoods. Art is one of them—the Supreme Fiction, as Wallace Stevens calls it" (qtd. on 88). Palazzolo, who reads Banville's "Revolutions" trilogy of 1976–1986 (Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, [End Page 121] The Newton Letter) accordingly, extends the Stevensian frame of reference to Banville's "art trilogy" of 1989–1995 (The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, Athena), noting Banville's "patterned triadic frame" of reference (104), but failing to relate the tripartite structure of these fictions to that of "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction." In his introduction to John Banville and His Precursors, Springer locates the collection in the field of Comparative Literature, a field that, he argues, nurtures "ramified ecologies of persistence and reception" (5). But Comparative Literature may prove a minefield, too, for scholars who are less sure-footed in their foray into one of the parts of a comparative paradigm. This is the case with Palazzolo's study of Banville and Stevens. Although she makes valid if general points about Banville's and Stevens's shared "dynamics of the creative process," which "can be perceived in motion," and, after Simon Critchley, defines both writers as "inheritors of a 'romantic modernity'" (90), Palazzolo's analysis of Stevens is open to question, and is riddled with errors. For example, her claim that Stevens adopts the form of the long poem only...