Modern Fiction (was Re: DWJ's Faults and Robertson Davies)

Robyn Starkey rohina at
Fri Apr 12 22:27:03 EDT 2002

>I don't know that they're in the same league necessarily.  They definitely
>aren't writing the same kind of book and I think Davies is *far* more
>metaphysical than the others.  (Whether or not this is good is left to the
>reader to decide.  :)  But in terms of the actual fact, I was
>reading Margaret Atwood's _The Blind Assassin_ and the *way* in which the
>story was told reminded me of passages from _Fifth Business_.

Snap! I've just finished reading Atwood's book myself, and I agree it 
appears to owe something to Davies, or maybe it's just that's exactly what 
Canadian small towns were like in the 1930s. Har har. I found Atwood's 
characters much less likable, though.

>I, without any real experience, was
>still able to appreciate the way Davies tells a story, and on that level I
>think he's accessible to the average uninformed reader (the same way that
>Anne Tyler is).  This is as opposed to "postmodern" in the sense of
>fragmentary texts, interstitial texts where you have to read what's not
>being said by what is being said.  Like if Ernest Hemingway had a baby with
>John Barthes.  That kind.

Oh yes, I have a lot of trouble with those, too. My pet peeve is writing 
which just exists to be fragmentary and poetic sentences, while the book as 
a whole remains mysteriously lacking. Or just gross and violent and creepy, 
like Iain McEwen and Ivan Southall.

>Totally true.  In that sense, the authors I named above aren't postmodern at
>all.  But I also realized that my original post, among its other flaws, made
>a serious error.  I said "modern fiction" meaning, really, contemporary
>literary fiction, not all of which is postmodern.  But that really implies
>postmodern more than what *I* meant.

Postmodern is such a slippery term. Almost by definition, except that the 
definitions do tend to hinge on intertextuality and multiplicity of 
narrative viewpoints. Mixing media (like pretend quotes, or Lodge's film 
scripts), parody, irony and self referential elements all help to define a 
postmodern novel, but these individual elements don't make the novel 
postmodern. A lot of the fragmentary narrative stuff, while it is 
self-conscious, has neither of the two real requirements.

>That was my feeling, but I couldn't really see what.  Though it sounds like
>that was a function of not reading the whole "book," if you consider the
>trilogies to be better understood as a unit.  Like stopping after the first
>fifteen chapters and complaining that the book doesn't make sense.  :)

Exactly right. Or reading the middle book of a fantasy trilogy and 
complaining it didn't have a beginning or an end. Whether it SHOULD is a 
different question.

>Yes--and didn't I just whine about how we should still be able to say
>something is terrible no matter how literary it sounds?--but you need the
>basic understanding of the form to tell the difference, I think.  (Which is
>probably why most universities still teach traditional literary criticism
>before they teach postmodernism.)  It's one thing to say a book doesn't work
>for you personally, and another to claim that because you didn't like it,
>it's just bad, period.

This is exactly why my book group fell apart - we had people in it who 
really couldn't understand this distinction, and one who said "this is a 
bad book because I would not have done what the heroine did". On the other 
hand, one thing that annoys me about cultural studies (when Lit departments 
call themselves Cultural Studies depts, for example) is that there is a ban 
on saying anything is bad. Strangely enough, this also means everything is 
equally good and equally valueless. And because of this, girls who are 
writing there thesis on Michael Jackson's videos feel that they can say to 
you "why are you writing on Chaucer, what can that contribute to lit crit?"

>Melissa Proffitt
>and I promised I'd stop catching up with email here, so I will
>(our cheese-based food product for tonight will be nachos)

You know that eating dairy is probably exacerbating your allergy problem....:)

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