Reminiscence and Re-creation in Contemporary American Fiction
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The world reflected in post-modernist fiction is one of chance and randomness, devoid of historical intelligibility. Stacey Olster challenges this view by distinguishing American post-modernism--with respect to the views of historical processes that its practitioners share. Arguing that their experience of communism proved instrumental in shaping the historical perspective of novelists who began writing after World War II, Olster examines their change in perspective in the 1950s after historical events forced them to acknowledge the failure of the communist ideal in Russia. Focusing on Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Robert Coover, and E.L. Doctorow, Olster portrays the idiosyncratic--but consistent--model of history that each began to construct in his work in order to preserve the illusion of an ordered sense of time. The author defines the qualities the writers share that form a common sensibility: a vision of historical movement taking the shape of an open-ended spiral, a refusal to accept the inevitability of apocalypse, and a conscious return to the traditions of earlier American authors.
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Rojack does not possess sufficient courage to obtain that reward. He only has courage to attempt one walk around the parapet of Kelly's terrace; returning to his starting point is too much for him to contemplate. And as he realizes afterward, unwelcome consequences will follow from his unfinished mission: "Suddenly I knew something was wrong, something had gone finally wrong: it was too late for the parapet now" (AD 244). It also becomes too late for Cherry. By going to Kelly's suite instead of
they might reform and complete the task for which they had been chosen. In times of doubt, Pynchon's characters resort to this kind of long-range historical thinking. As Fausto Maijstral's diary in V. states, "History's serpent is one; what matter where on her body we lie" (290). Felipe, one of the Argentines in Gravity's Rainbow, comes to a similar realization, "that history as it's been laid on the world is only a fraction, an outward-and-visible fraction" (714). For both Puritans and Pynchon,
Unfortunately, the view he presents is not his own - indeed, at this point of the book he still sits on the boat - but that of an ancient hero reaching an ancient land as told by an ancient poet. His words have no basis in fact, as his later adventures will show, and they have little connection with his own imag- JOHN BARTHI CLIO AS KIN TO CALLIOPE 119 inative faculties. Instead, they derive from a tradition to which Ebenezer is glued even more in his art than in his actions. In his own
with the feeling of artistic "ultimacy" rather than the fact of it in "The Literature of Exhaustion." He also proposes a solution: Faced with a feeling of creative "ultimacy," the artist can use "ultimacy" as his subject and write about the threat it poses (31). In Lost in the Funhouse, "Title" follows this advice to the letter: "To turn ultimacy against itself to make something new and valid, the essence whereof would be the impossibility of making something new" (106). If Barth then adds, "What