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Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies
The End of Postmodemism: New Directions

Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies Director: Prof. Dr. Heide Ziegler

Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies

The.End of Postmodemism; New Directions
Proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in CUltural Studies
04.08. - 18.08.1991

Director: Heide Ziegler

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Contents

o.
1.

Introduction Heide Ziegler Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Beyond: Toward an Open World Ihab Hassan Pestmodernlsm Revisited John Barth Before Postmodernism and After (Part One) Raymond Federman Stuttga.rt Lecture One: Space William Gass Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)

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Die Deutsche Bibliothek - CIP-Einheitsaufnallme Tbe e~ of postmodemism: new directions; proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies, 04.08. -18.08.l9911 director: Heide Ziegler. - Stuttgart: M und P, Verl, fUr Wiss. und Forschung, 1993 ISBN 3-476-48045-7
NE; ZJ:egler, Heide [Hrsg.]; Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies <01. 1991>

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ISBN 3-476-45045-7
Dieses WeLk ist einschlieffich al18I seiner Teile g·esohlitzt. Jede Verwertung auBerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberredrtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung des Verlages l.l!IlZulassigund stratbar .. Das gilt insbesondere ftirVervielfaltigwl.gen, Uber, setzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und £inspeicherun.g in elektronischen Systemen.

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Malcolm Bradbury
6. Stuttgart Lecture Two: Form William Gass Postmodernlsm, the Novel, and the TV Medium (2) Malcolm Bradbury

LOI

M & P Verlag fur Wissenschaft und Forschung

em Verlag der J. B.Melzlerschen. Verlagsbucbhandlung Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH in Stuttgart

und

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115

© 1993J.B. Metzlersche Verlaqsbuchhandlunq und Carl Emst Poeschel Verlag GmbH in Stuttgart Druck und Bindung: Pocket Edition Printing GmbH. Darmstadt Printed in Germany,

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PENNSYLVANIA

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UBRARfES _

8.

Let the Fresh Airr In. Critical Perspectives on 'the Hu"mani'ties

Heide Ziegler
135

Ihab Hassan
9, BeforePostmodernism Raymond Federman and After (part Two) 153

The End of Postmodernism: New Directions

10.

The Novel in the Next Century John Barth

171
It is hard, perhaps impossible. to say when an era has reached, or will reach, its end, especially if that era happens to define one's own contemporary environment. Perhaps we have come to clamor for the end of post modernism because we feel increasingly uncertain about its beginnings and thus OUf own stance within it. Or, unhappy with postmodemism's ambiguities, we feel the urge for a new beginning and new directions. Or, worst of all, we despair of ever getting out from under postmodernisrn and thus ironically proclaim its end in the hopes of seeing it arrive. The uncertain beginnings of postmodemism are often, and correctly, associated with the appearance of one particular text, although postmodernism applies to the other arts as well, first and foremost to architecture, but also to mueic.painting, photography, and dance. However, as William H. Gass has stetedin his "Stuttgart Lecture One": "To live ina culture is to live in a space of signs, to have a station and recognize its duties, to read and be read at the same time." The signs Gass refers to do not necessarily have to be letters, they may also be sounds or images; yet the processes of reading and being read, which constitute culture, presuppose an act of conceptualization which can best be stimulated by a literary text and which, turned self-reflexive, has become the hallmark of postmodernism, This self-reflexivity enables the reader to distance or abstract himself from his position as individual situated in a particular culture. The text itself can reproduce this process or abstraction.

Notes on the Authors

189

Heide Ziegler

The End of Postmodemism: New Directions

Joyce's Finnegan's

Wake, published in 1939, is often called the first post-

lose its bite and degenerate into mere playfulness, while self-reflexivity can
quickly tum into narcissism.

modem text, for instance by Ihab Hassan; as the first theoretical text to announce postmodernism,

And it is this playfulness and narcissism which

Gass cites Joseph Frank's seminal essay about spatial
I would date the beginnings of literary post-

stand out in the eye of the general public as the distinctive features of postmodernism, rather than its courageous and moving attempt to replace metaphysics with aesthetics - the attempt that we find both in the parents of post-

form in modern fiction (1945). For our present purposes, the definition of new directions In postmodernism, The Sot-Weed modernism in or around 1960 ~ perhaps with the mise en

scene of John Barth's

Factor or Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, From this point OIl,

modernism and their true offspring, some of whom assembled to create the
exceptional Whereas atmosphere modernism, of the first STUTTGART SEMINAR IN CUL-

self-reflexivity - a time-honored philosophical concept which had called at first for serious treatment, and later, that is, starting with early Romanticism, for an ironic one - dominated what we call postmodern fiction in a conceptual sense. The result was metaflction, a reflection within the 'texr oOnits own textual na-

TURAL STUDIES. which boasted a continuous avant-gardism, can be
appropriately described only in synchronic terms.postmodernism to move backwards is by defini-

tion always diachronic. This may account for the fact that the term has begun

ture and on the multiple possibilities which emerge when the writer takes into
account the fictional strategies of other writers

in creating his or her own, and,
fiction "quotes"

in time: first, it came to be applied to certain develop-

ments in the twenties of this century, then it crossed the border to the nineteenth, and the end of its journey is not even in sight. Soon, as Umberto Eco has noted somewhat acrimoniously, the term "postmodernism" will have reached Homer and the Homeric epics, One reason for this development can be found in the paradox posed by the term "postmodemism' pointed out repeatedly, itself and its relationship to modernism. It has been

thus, on the pleasures and dangers of citation. Postmodern

other works of art for two reasons: one, the writer's self-reflexive impulses can thereby be converted, into a means of placing the writer within a given tradition; two, by portraying culture as an interdependent tion series of texts, the

writer invites the reader to textualize his own experience, reevalu,ate his posi-

m the

world. Postmodern

texts uhimately enforce a will, not to power, - kitsch not fiction

for instance by Malcolm Bradbury, that you simply

but to art, a form of Kunstwollen that induces IJS, if not to change our lives, then at least to least among them. Gertrude Stein, whom I would call the mother of postmodern (certainly of the fictions of Raymond Federman or William Gass), has shown us what verba] self-reflexivity certainly acknowledged Exhaustion"), ought to look like, and Jorge Luis Borges, fiction (and who is whom I would accordingly call the father of postmodern evaluate them ,in terms of aesthetic categories

cannot append (by means of, say, the prefix "post-") the notion of "what comes after" to a concept which, as "modem" is bound to do, denotes the contemporary. The historical dimension implied in the prefix "post-" and the notion of contemporaneousness coexist with innovativeness.

called up by the term "modem" create an
conservative tendencies of

ironic tension. They suggest that in postmodernism, tive character of post modernism knowledgement

Indeed, I would like to contend that the innovaconsists precisely in the acknowledgement This ac-

as such by Barth in his 1967 essay, "The Literature of

its conservatism in the face of modernism's perpetual avant-gardism,

has taught us the aforementioned pleasures and dangers of citaaesthetic and the concomitant inflation of the

is effectively captured by a term that maintains, through its

tion. Both Stein and Borges, however, also unwittingly paved the way for the trivialization of the postmodem term "postrnodernism." When not in the hands of a master, citation can easily

prefix "post-," the historicity of modernism . an epoch that always saw itself as radically ahistorical, even at a time when

it had started to fade away. Im-

plicitly, of course, the term points to the historicity of postmodemisrn itself

6

7

Heide Ziegler

The End cf'Postmedernism: New Directions

To explore the implications of this paradox was the raison d'etre of the Stuttgart Seminar entitled The End of Postmodemism: New Directions. To consists between my mind. the crucial shortcut in most debates about postmodemism more comprehensive concept of the "modern, as was introduced

covering history. This new sense of being in history is the conservative element within postmodemism. However, the postmodem artist discovers his sense of history within the context of art itself: his reference is to another text , or to another work of art - world is seen as text. This is the innovative element within postmodernism, Citation. especially in combination with parody, marks the present stance of the postmodem artist as historicist. Citation returns us to an earlier point in history when the division between nature and civilization was Jess pronounced. Metafiction, parodically reflecting upon its own need to quote .•gains a utopian dimension. But, in postmodernism, this struggle can no longer be subjectively contained; the world of signs becomes objective and independent of the writer, For when citation dominates, it may support the traditional opinion that

in its being considered only in relation to modernism, but not in relation to a
II'

1795 and 1798 (the year in which Athenaum was first. published) by Schlegel and Schiller. Modernity as defined by these two Romantic philosophers captured a revolution in art that was to be the aesthetic counterpart of the great political revolution of 1789. The principal concern of early Romanticism was to transcend the apparently unresolvableconflict between nature and civilization that had been one of the central themes in the work of Rousseau - and to transcend it through historical projection: nature was placed in antiquity, civilization in the present "modern" age; and since the experience of antiquity was closed,

art is, or ought to be, timeless. Quoted citation lends

the text a potentially classical stature: the fact that it is being quoted suggests that it deserves to be quoted. Ironically> postmodern art implies a new body of classical, canonized texts even when - as is often the case with Borges - these texts prove to be a fiction. Once such a canon is established, postmodernism as a movement will indeed have come to an end, or, at least, will have to change direction; for then a new, unforeseen dimension ~ilJ open up in the form of a new ~ no longer aesthetic - struggle over which texts are to be preserved and which forgotten. Indeed, this struggle [has already begun in the academic institutions of the United States. Borges could still believe that his name need not be remembered, having come to stand for literature as such > . and Gertrude Stein could still toy with the concept of of autobiography" But the end of postmodernism arrives when citation itself becomes self-reflexive when the writer's tentative immortality can no longer derive from his imaginacure this immortality by inscribing himself into the text, and only the authendeity of his will to quote remains, Thus what we, paradoxically, now demand in this world where the text reigns supreme and citation has become paramount. is the actual presence of the writer. The Stuttgart Seminar showed to what extent the actual pre-sence of the writer can thematize the aesthetics of

it was quasi inevitable that modern art should on the one hand be di("Universalpoesie"), that is, a poetry that

rected toward a utopian future and on the other pretend to the status of what Schlegel called universal poetry would encompass all fields of civilization: religion ..law, philosophy, and art. All subsequent literary epochs should be seen ill the context of this first phase of modernity; indeed, they may be seen as so many variations on the theme it set. In this light, these epochs appear as marked by a reflection of increasing depth and transparency on the impossible task of civilization: the' constant struggle to resist the tug of nature, and the repeated insight that this is impossible. As a result, progressive irony in Schlegel's sense - a growing awareness of, and unwillingness to accept, this dilemma - becomes more and more important. For each new stage of reflection on the conditions of each successive age demands - as Schlegel's theory of irony anticipated - a deeper conscious commitment and, at the same time; a greater distance to nature than was previously required. Indeed, it almost seems as if each new development in art was launched out of an urge to find a way out of this irooicdilemma, Thus the postmodern artist is once more trying to overcome the dichotomy between nature and civilization by resorting to Schlegel's solution and redis-

-.

tion, his ability to create an original text, when the author can no longer se-

8

9

Heide Ziegler

postmodemism

precisely at a point in time that may signal its approaching

end, signalling as well the need for new directions in contemporary art,

Ihab Hassan

Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Beyond: Toward an Open World
Introduction
I must first thank Heide Ziegler for her extraordinary feats, like summarizing postmodernism in twenty luminous minutes, and outlining its issues with lasersharp clarity; or like bringing us together at Momepos, though the place may not prove to be your repos or mine.

Now, the encompassing title of my lecture is "Pragmatism, Postmodemism,
and Beyond: Toward an open World." This leaves nothing out, and also sounds a little like "The New World order." In any case, put the title aside for a while; I want to begin with a joke. There are compelling reasons for doing this. First, no one ever expects me to be humorous, so the sheer shock of the attempt may get the attention of this sophisticated audience. Then, too, the joke is a postmodern joke modernists. Finally, the joke does hint at my "real" topic, the wayan hints an oak, or a butterfly in chaos theory hints a hurricane. Here is the joke' an. American businessman is lecturing in Japan, He has employed a Japanese interpreter in a simultaneous translation facility, The lecture begins, and the interpreter says to his audience: "American speaker now begins with what they call '[oke.' We do Dot know why they do this in America, but we must be polite. When the time comes, I will give you a stgnal and we must all laugh and applaud together." The puncbline comes; the Japanese interpreter says: "Now." The audience bursts out laughing and clapping.
.8

joke

about jokes, a self-reflexive joke, as we used to say when we were all postacorn

10

Ihab Hassan

Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Beyond

The American, pleased as Punch, says: "Thank you. This is the first time an audience has appreciated my joke so fuUy." For me" this joke is about translation in the widest sense: from the Latin root, translatto, which means carrying across, crossing borders, transgressing frontiers of every kind. You might also say it. is a joke about metaphors, since the Greek root, metapherein, also suggests carrying; over or across, closing a gap, bridging the unbridgeable ..Let's call it a joke about travel; travel between orders of culture, consciousness, discourse; between assumptions or beliefs; travel away from dogma and ideology; travel in time, back and forth, as well as in space. And that's the "beyond" In my title, that's the openness I have in mind when I invoke pragmatism or postmodernism.

Katmandu> plunging in the Marianas Trench or scaling Everest, crisscrossing the white wastes of the Arctic or Antarctic, leaving their traces, their refuse, everywhere, men - and increasingly women ~ move through earth's spaces; seeking something they mayor may not know. For travel is rarely mere physical displacement; it is gravid with metaphor. Though acutely personal, it engages global issues, and enacts crucial encounters with both the self and the: other - that alien out there or within us all. But what "global issues"? We live in a time of planetization, globalization - but also of retribalization, splinters of empires, each sect or tribe seeking new autonomy. Read the newspapers. Whether in "Yugoslavia," the "Middle East," or the, "Soviet Union," splinters multiply. We live also in a time of dazzling realignments, a. world ambiguously and sometimes terribly interactive. Such realignments presage not the "end of history," but a kind of new nimbleness in situating ourselves in the world. These current realignments - I call them deals and whispers in the geopolitical dusk - are themselves evidence of an older process, The planetization of the earth may have begun with neolithic hunters, or perhaps with the first outcast who mated elsewhere. But with Columbus, Cabot, Magellan, da Gama, and Drake, the earth became interactive in another way. This was both an exuberant and bellicose moment for the West, grievous for other people who gradually feEl prey to colonization, excepting some, like the Japanese, so remote and intractable as to stay free. Later, industrialization in the West made its power and knowledge paramount. By the middle of our century, Heidegger could lament "the complete Europeanization [he did not say Americanization] of the earth and of man," an infection, he claimed, that "attacks at the source everything that is of an essential nature. u But Heidegger proved impercipient in politics. Curiously, he ignores the fact that his interlocutor, in that particular conversation, is a. Japanese thinker, initiate of "silence" and the equivocal concept of iki, "the breath of the stillness of luminous delight." In their dialogue, we meet t.he true condition of our

nl

be talking mainly about pragmatism in this lecture and mainly about

postrnodemisrn in the seminar, and probably about both in my sleep - and perhaps even in your sleep. That's because these terms come together for me in the mind ~ and in the real world we are living in. But I want first to address travel in its current geopolitical context ~ the same travel that was so rabidly outlawed, and is still outlawed, by various regimes. The same travel we are all attempting, I think, in coming here to the Stuttgart Seminar', involving travel as displacement., translation, and metaphor. Travel as openness. One last, prelusive point: as this is the initial lecture of the Stuttgart Seminars, and an introduction to American pragmatism - somewhat unfamiliar in Europe - to boot, I will need to simplify and clarify almost to a fault. We can begin to qualify, give density and texture, in the discussions to follow.

1. Travel and Geopolitics
Travel - whether tourism, adventure, or quest - is rife in our world. From jungles, across oceans, steppes, and savannah, saharas, from Maehu Picchu to

12

13

IhabHassan

Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Beyond

world; not planetization only but also autochthonous idioms, not simplycommunication but the. incommunicable as well. Where Heidegger saw only "the Europeanization of the earth and man," we

But ethnography will not deliver the world. (One may recall the narrator of

Joan Didion's A Book of Common Prayer, an "anthropologist who lost her
faith in enthrcpelogy. ") Nor can ethnography explain the shocking disparity between nations, say mountainous imagination Switzerland and mountainous Bhutan .. What can? Nor does it always confront facts embarrassing to its own liberal ~ for instance, African or Asian racism, or inverse discrimination, that prejudice about the West: prevalent in many parts of the world. Yet at the very least, ethnography can qualify our romances with the other, with nature, primitivism, and the exotic. And it can engage the question most vital to us in multicultural and polynational regions of the world ~ like Europe and America. The answers will not be definitive. They will require some agility of mind; but our they win require us to resist quick holism and powerful explanations. For what is holism when the local and global continually blur in the world? And what is powerful explanation but a covert,
an elegantly

perceive now variety, otherness, a gallimaufry of politics. Where Heidegger saw only hegemony we see now what the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard called le differend. The difficulties of this acute, Gallic particularism are stressed by Richard Rarty in his colloquies with Lyotard, Rorty accepts, conversationally, a pragmatism of liberal hope, tolerant of the world's melange of conflicting values. He stands genially between the heavy totality of Heidegger and the potentially terrorist fragments ofLyotard. Terrorism and totalitarism may be: extremes of our geopolitics,

global condition is actually more hybrid and haphazard, This is the age of kitsch and cargo cults, If Europe has learned American know-how, American

concealed

assumption,

bricolage, so have non-Western nations in order to survive. Occident and orient have contaminated

reducing diversity to a single view? A little uncertainty, a little pragmatism, a little independence or Emersonian whim, above all, a little less ideological contumely ~ these can help to situate ourselves and keep the issues of geopolitical travel in the light. These can empower our metaphors (or translations), and keep mind and world open to one another.

one another. Far from being simply homogenized,

Americanized, the world has become, as Gianni Vattimo says after Nietzsche, "an immense warehouse of residues," plundered and preserved by unequal powers. This is nowhere more visible or anguished than in the ethnographer's enterprise. Alert to the ravages of cultural encounters, he or she can theorize them, part scavenger and part colonizer, at best a seeker of true differences in alien places, a time-traveler par excellence, In Local Knowledge, Clifford Geertz summarizes the new ethnographic
stance thus:

IT.

Pragmatism
But what is "pragmatism," especially in its Anglo-American, rather than its Japanese, say, variety? First of all, we need to clarify the word "pragmatism" itself. The OED gives for pragmatic the following meanings: (1) relating to affairs of state; (2) busy, active, intrusive. meddling; (3) conceited, opinionated, dictatorial; (4) treating historical facts systematically; (5) practical, matter-of-fact, dealing with practice. Well, that's language for you, a glorious pragmatic welter of contradictions.

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening, To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency- But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the fOnTIS human life bas locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind,
without 'which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham,

comes.

14

15

lhab Hassan

Pragmatism, Pestmodemism, and. Beyond

A. Two Senses of Pragmatism
For our purposes, tic, and unprincipled) though, we need only distinguish between the vulgar
'opportunis-

cause I want to share with you the language, not only the ideology, pragmatism. We tend to pay too much attention to ideology nowadays

of -

someone's "position" - and not enough to language. and this makes our discourse tautological, a repetition of assumptions rather than a discovery of values, insights, ideas, experiences. In any Case, pragmatism cannot be considered an ideology or a philosophy except in the loosest sense - it is rather a set of principles, beliefs, attitudes subject to constant revision Rorty once put it: "Pragmatism
philosophical points in non-pbilosophicallanguage."

modem use of the word pragmatism (meaning; expedient,cynica1.

and the philosophic use of the word, which finds its

roots in the English tradition of skeptical and empiric philosophy (Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Bentham, Mill), and in the American tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Sanders Peirce. William James, and John Dewey, culmiII

by experience.

As

keeps trying to find ways of making anti-

nating with Richard Rorty, and in

lesser way with critics like Stanley Fish, Smith, Walter Benn Michaels, Richard

Frank Lentricchia, Barbara Herrnstein

Poirier. myself - a very untidy group indeed, which is also typical of pragma-

B. Emerson Though a precursor, Emerson remains central to the tradition of American pragmatism, as two important recent books claim: Cornel West's The American Evasion oJPhilosophy:

tism.
Put another way, the new American pragmatism is
.11

form of postmodern

thought" though it antecedes postmodemism itself: it is oriented toward action and consequence, sensitive to language, above all, "non-foundational" (that is, avoidling the question of foundational or transcendent As such, it bears thought," (Greenblatt).
some relation tl pensiero debole
Dr

A Genealogy of Pragmatism (1989) and Richard
(1992). & you know, Emerson

metaphysical
(Derrida),

truth).
"weak

Poirier's Poetry and Pragmatism called a Transcendentalist

is often
In

to poststructuralism Rovati),

though he is more accurately an Immanentist.

(Vattimo,

the

new

historicism

any case, he shows a distinctly pragmatic tum of mind when he writes about fact, action, power, language. experience, truth, etc. Here are some instances, which I offer you in no rigorous order, but which I hope can persuade
YDU

In fact, Rorty claims, pragmatism has been "waiting at the end"

of the road that philosophy bas taken in the 20th century since Heidegger

of

(For a polemical introduction to the whole subject of pragmatism, I cite the triangular debate between Jurgen Habermas,
Tum.) Jean-Francois Lyotard,

and

the crucial relevance of Emerson to the pragmatic tradition, hence to current thinking, 1. Consider first the question of ultimate truth. An Emersonian
of Literature,

Richard Rorty, conducted in the last decade in various journals, referenced in
my book, The Postmodern

pragmatist

But this is an initial, not to say superficial, answer to the question, meant only to g-et us started on our way. I want now to review threenineteenth century thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wl!l1iamJames, and Charles Sanders Peirce. before focusing on Richard Rorty in the: twentieth century . Very
regrettably, I wiU have to skip John Dewey, in the earlier part of our century,

"might have to use the words 'God' or 'soul," as Poirier notes in The Renewal but would also realize "that there was in fact really nothing out-

side to depend on, and nothing inside either," except perhaps "the- desire that
there should be more than nothing." This view applies more to the later Emerson, though you can find it distinctly in "Circles" (Es~s:· First Series) as well
as in "Experience"

simply because [ have no time to do him justice. proJific as he was. Finally, ] should mention that] will be quoting at some length throughout this talk be-

(Essays: Second Series). In "Circles," for instance, he says:

16

17

Ihab

Hassan Objections and criticism we havehad our fill ot:... Do not craze yourself with thinking. but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectualor critical. but sturdy. Indeed, this active principle ean be discerned in Emerson's earliest work, like

Every ultunatefact is only the first of a new series ..Every general law is only a particular fact of some more general law presently to disclose itself. There is no outside, rio enclosing wall, no circumference to us. And in the great essay, "Experience: " Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none, We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairsbelow us. which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of
sight.

"The American Scholar," where he says: "Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is function. Living is the functionary."

In Emerson, then, we find a full premonition of pragmatism, a prefiguration
of postmodernconeerns deriving, of course, from our own postmodern readiOB of him, our reinscription of our own predicament in his texts.

The point here is that there are no final frames to human consciousness,

no

C. Peirce If Emerson can be considered the grandfather of pragmatism, Peirce is its father, developing the' concept and term pragmatism itself Later, when the term became too general and loose for the finicky Peirce, he coined the term "pragmaticism" to distinguish his particular philosophy - a term, he said. "ugly
enough to be safe from kidnappers. " Peirce, of course, is still not widely known, though some consider him the most brilliant and original philosophical mind America has produced. a poly-

ultimate references, no rock on which Truth, fuundationaltruth., can rest, no system that includes aU other syste,ms. This isa key principle of pragmatism. 2. A second and related principle of'Emersonian pragmatism (which we will also meet in James) is the primacy, not of logic or reason in human affairs, but of temperament, belief" imagination. Here is Emerson, again in "Bxperience. Ii
Dream. delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and. as we pass through them they prove to be manyeolored lenses .... Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are strung. And again on belief: Sentiments, it is not what we believe concerning the inunortaJ!ity of the SQUIor the like, but the universal impulse to believe, that is the material circumstance and is theprincipal fact in the history of the
globe. . J. A third essential principle of Emersonlan pragmatism is its emphasis on action, art praxis rather-than pure conceptualization or abstract thought:

math versed in chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, logic, semiotics. Yet, with some exceptions like his great friend and champion William James, and later John Dewey - with some exceptions. few thinkers have paid him close attention, until very recently. Only in 193], the first six volumes of his papers appeared. He re1li~nedl eccentric, living in near poverty, working for thirty years for the u.s. Coast and Geodetic Survey, an obscure scientific department, after graduating from Harvard in 1859. There are some reasons for this neglect, I think, beyond his eccentricities: he.
did not complete major and. unified works, preferring papers and essays; he

can be difficult to read, given to coinagesand neologisms; he wrote on. technical subjects in symbolic logic, astronomy, physics, mathematics; Indeed"

18

19

lhabHassan

Pragmatism, Postraodernlsm, and Beyond

throughout his intellectual career, his two major concerns were experimental science and the possibilities of a large synthesis of science, philosophy, and religion. Thus his pragmatism, unlike James's or Rorty's, has a distinct scientific orientation. For him, the basis of research, as he put it in a trenchant statement, is to reach a "clearness of thought of higher grade than the 'distinctness' of logicians. That's pragmatism, or at least the beginning of pragmatism. But what are the main features of Peirce's pragmatism? Let me mention five
OJ

upon the conduct of life.... " This is as true of an experiment in the lab as it is of, say, a political decision or a personal choice, And it is certainly true of philosophical concepts that are "either meaningless gibberish ...or downright absurd" because they have no real consequences whatever. (The precise technical formulation of this principle is as follows: "Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearing [that] you conceive the object of your conception to have, Then your conception of those effects is the WHOLE of your conception of the object. ;')
4. Fourth, from all this it follows that Peirce's pragmatism is antt-free-willanti-necessitarian,

points.
l. First of all it is not an individualistic philosophy, as it is, for instance, in

as he would say. For Peirce, "objective chance" is inherent in the universe. "Try to verify any law of nature," he says, "and you will find

James. Rather, h is a form of collective reason and praxis, a semiotic practice
aimed at large, if still obscure, human goals. This is what he says: Especially, one man's experience is nothing if'it stands alone. If he sees what others cannot, we call it hallucination. It is not 'my' experience but 'our' experience, that has to be thought of; and this 'us' has indefinite possJbilities.

that the more precise your observations, the more certain they will be to show irregular departures from the law" - hints of chaos theory? 'The deviations are not due to buman error but to objective chance. Thus Peirce refutes the cosmicdetermiaismof Newton, Laplace, and Herbert Spencer by adducing (a)
the principle of objective chance, (b) the irreversibility of heat processes of

biological developments, and (c) the non-identity of mind with brain, the presence of consciousness which escapes the laws of physics, Another way of putting all this is to say that variety and complication are constantly taking place in the universe; they were not introduced once and for all at the beginning. And so the universe continues to harbor spontaneity later, Rorty would say contingency. In the human realm. this spontaneity 'of
consciousness

2. Second. despite its bias for science and collective rationality, pragmatism recognizes fully the importance of beliefs, values, habits, customs, traditions, folkways. Only beliefs really permit us to act; to "establish a rule of action or habit," whereas doubt is "dissatisfied" with itself: wants to end itself and become beliefs. We always "seek for a belief that we shall think to be true;" furthermore, "we cling tenaciously. not merely to believing, but to believing just what we do believe." A philosophical question that is framed purdy in logical terms, without attention to beliefs and their consequences, is therefore a totally empty question. ("From all these sophisms [of re-ason]," Peirce says, "we shall be perfectly safe so long as We reflect that the whole function of thought is to produce habits of action. ... ") 3. Third, the emphasis on action means really an emphasis on results, consequences. A "conception...," he says, "lies exclusively in its conceivable bearing

allows ethical cholce and social responsibility. Actions. and their

consequences thus become part of a moral human universe, 5. For Peirce, however, the summum bonum of pragmatism is the evolution of the human race toward a generalized condition of benevolent awareness, "In its higher stages," he says, "evolution takes place more and more largely through self-control, and this gives the pragmaticist a sort of justification to be general." Pragmatic reason is thus perceived as a form of evolutionary selfcontrol, rather than increased logicality for the entire race.

20

21

ThabHassan

Pragmatism, Postmodemism, and Beyond

D. James
Ifwe move on to James now, we see that these principles of pragmatism are elaborated in greater detail, and that new principles, or rather different aspects of the same principles, are proposed. I. First, Jamesian pragmatism, like all philosophical pragmatisms, rests on the anti-Hegelian or anti-totalizing view expressed, here: This means, again, that there can be no complete or inclusive system which subsumes all others: we are always open to other perspectives.' (Not only Kurt Godel but also the Zen garden at Ryoanji in Kyoto comes to mind.) Simply put, truth (with a small "t") is always contextual, provisional, perspectival, fully conditioned by value and belief The result ofthis pragmatic attitude is a perception of reality as something not given,not even discovered out there, but a dynamic construction, something made and remade continually by the human community. As James put it, truth is "made just as health, wealth, and strength are made, in the course of experience .... " 2. AI] this means that pragmatism is essentially a pluralist pbllosopby, or anti-philosophy. Here is James, anticipating Jean-Fran~oisLyotard: "The world is full of partial stories that run parallel to one another" beginning and ending at odd times." There can be no master narrative (Lyotard) 01" noetic unity (James), since these stories exist in a paratactical universe. Thus James amplifies the point:
It may be that some parts of the world are connected so loosely with some other parts as to be strung. along by nothing but the copula and.

This, then. is the empiric epistemology on which noetic pluralism is based, a pluralism that does not derive from a soft sentiment of tolerance but an. intellectual exigency relating to theinsufliciency of thought, the partiality of mind. Thill pluralism, however, is not completely open-ended; it is not a radical rela-

tivism (anything and everything goes). For it is constrained by at least two sets
of things: (a) one's own prejudices and values; and (b) the limitations on all

ICtions. called consequences, or the "reality principle" if you wish. of which
death is the most ineluctable law. 3. This brings me to what James calls "willing nature," or belief; in his great book, The Will to Believe:
When I say 'willing nature,' I do not mean only such deliberate volitions as may have set up habits of belief that we cannot now escape from, - I mean all such factors of belief as fear and hope, prejudice and passion, imitation and partisanship. the circumpressure of our caste and set. As a matter of fact" we find ourselves believing, we hardly know how or why ..

This "passional nature" or "will to believe"' is. for James, central to human Iffl.irs~he even admits that biologically speaking, "our minds are as ready to srind out falsehood as veracity." In other words, James, like Peirce or EmerIOn, recognizes the relevance to philosophy of instinct, value, belief, and need - the relevance of power and desire, as post-modem thinkers would nowadays ny,. 4. The other constraint on pluralism, I have said, is action and consequence, The importance of an idea or action for James lives in its actual , not expected , consequences. This applies even to our idea of God:
to follow either logic or the senses and to count the hwnblest and most personal experiences. She [pragmatism] will C01:1llt mystical experiences if they have practical consequences [my italics]. She will take a God Who lives in the very dirt of private fact - if that should seem a likely place to find him.

They might even come and go without those other parts suffering any internal change, This pluralistic view, of a world of addUtve constitution, is one that

pragmatism is unable.to rule out from serious consideration. But this view leads one to the farther hypothesis that the
actual world, instead of being complete 'eternally,'as the monists assure I.IS, may be eternally incomplete, and at all times subject to addition or liable to loss,

22

23

IhabHassan

Pragmatism, Postmodemlsm, and Beyond

Note the emphasis on "practical consequences." Note also that this "God"

may live in the "very dirt of private fact;" that is, he Is part of our "willing nature, not of some abstract origin or metaphysical plan, Hence the orientation of Jamesian pragmatism towards realizable goals, not logical a- prioris but
II

nomic superpowers. AUthese are part of tile ongoing story of modem ism as it yields to postmodernism, in philosophy, specifically, twentieth century thought bas been shaped by Marx, Freud, Husserl, Wittgensteio, Heidegger, Adorno, Sartre, Camus, LeviStrauss, Lacan, Foucault, and now Derrida. Feminism and poststructuralism, ethnic and postcolonial studies, hold sway; the concerns of race, class, and Mender echo continually in academe. These are cultural facts no pragmatist can

"last things. fruits, consequences; facts. "

In short. the limits of pluralism are dictated by a reality principle as it manifests itself in human actions and their results. In this sense, pragmatism, though gravid with ideals for human behavior, is finally nota utopian philosophy - in fact, it tries actively to avoid utopianism. 5. The fifth point I want to make about Jamesian pragmatism concerns its sense oflife as a struggle. Here is James fur the last time:
If this life be nota real fight, in which something is eternally gained. for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels {note the emp'hasis:Jlikea real fight, - as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with. all our idealities and faithfulness, are needed to redeem .... For such a half-wild, balf-saved universe OUI" nature is adapted,

ignore.
For Rorty, pragmatism is part of that intellectualhistory; indeed, it constitutes a central development of thought in. our century. not just the last century. As he puts it in Consequences oj Pragmatism:
On the account of recent 'Continental' philosophy which I hope to offer in a book on Heidegger which [ am writing" James and Nietzsche make parallel criticism of nineteenth-century thought. Further. James's version is preferable, for it avoids the 'metaphysical' elements in Heidegger which Derrida criticizes. On my view. James and Dewey were not only waiting at the end of the dialectical road which anafytic philosophy traveled, but are waiting at the end of the road which, for example, Foucault and Deleuze are currently traveling.

This; we must admit, is a very qualified kind of optimism- in fact, an attitude that we can describe as neither optimistic nerpessimistic, but willingly realistic,

ltis immaterial whether pragmatism leads or follows in this development Rorty wants to be provocative, rather than nationalistic, wants to be "interesting," as he often says. In any case, he himself reverts to the major tenets of pragmatism in James, Peirce, and especially Dewey. But he also makes them at once more ironic and bland 1n his own language games - his stance, as I have written elsewhere, is ODe ofwry,cracker-barr-el deprecation. Here is how he states a cardinal hypothesis of pragmatism:
that what would succeed religion would be better. The question of whether the pragmatist is right to be so sanguine .is the question of whether a culture is imaginable, or desirable, 10 whicb no one • or at least no intellectual - be.lieves that we have, deep down inside us, a
criterion

E. Rorty
We come at last to Rorty and pragmatism in our time. But several initial points must be made to historieize our subject, a pretence of history. The twentieth century has witnessed the rise and fall of totalitarian regimes, namely Fascism and Communism. It has witnessed the atom bomb. It has witnessed the Cold War, detente, the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, and the rage of ethnic conflicts in Europe, indeed everywhere. And it has witnessed the rebirth of Japan and Germany as eco-

we are in the Truth. This would be a culture in which neither the

for telling whether

we

are in touch with reality or not,

when

24

25

lhab Hassan

Pragmatism, PosIrnodemism,

and

Beyond

as more "rational," or more "scientific" or "deeper" than one another. But what really is the particular contribution of this gifted. all-too-commonsensical philosopher? I shall limit myselfto three points. 1. The first pointconcerns his involvement not only with Anglo-American analytical but also, increasingly, with Continental philosophy,

priests nor the physicists nor the poets nor the Party were thought of

Problems and Prospects

m.

especially refers in

In my last statement, I have begun to criticize pragmatism, as we all must; I
hive begun to refer to its problems, and problems it has and admits. So let me

Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, to whom Rortyconstantly

his effort to "end" metaphysics. Thus Rorty credits all three with the idea that philosophy may have "exhausted its potentialities," that the motives for the 'existence of philosophy may no longer seem compelling to the best minds of our day - an idea which pragmatism anticipates. 2. The second point concerns Rorty's interest in literature. especially in textualism, as "the new wave" of cultural criticism. For him, "Pragmatism is the philosophical counterpart of literary modernism, the kind of literature which prides itself on its autonomy and novelty" rather than on its mimetic truthfulness; and textualism "draws the moral of modernist literature" in criticism. Thi~ means that literature, conceived in broadest terms, contains today the plurality of our most vital language games - a conclusion, no doubt, that must cheer literary critics. 3. The last point refers to Rorty's particular form of social engagement, which sometimes brings him closer to Habermas than to Lyotard in their controversies, and prompts him to accuse Foucault - unjustly, I think - of but moral" and political, objections he tries to "sterility" and "inhumanism." "The serious objections to textualism," he says,
"are not epistemological

make the transition to the final part of my talk explicit. I. The first and most obvious limitation of pragmatism is that it can not ap,..1 to highly theoretical, conceptual, systematic, and tidy minds. Pragmatism

lnatltll on the poverty of theory, and insists on the unfinished, indeterminate,
Indeed messy, character of existence. It is tolerant of the "noise of facts" and

the "muddiness oftbe street." as James would say. And it accepts "the continatnt character' of starting points" in all thought, as Rorty would emphasize. Thill kind of outlook will always repel minds in search of total clarity, final OIrtainty - what I call the paranoid mind, which Marxists used best to lICemplify. 2. The second problem is that philosophical pragmatism can never protect itItlf completely from the vulgar pragmatism of expediency. There will always

be times when the serious pragmatist will wonder if he or she has not yielded

to instrumental reason, mere efficiency and expediency, even moral neutrality.
Put another way, the emphasis on consequences in evaluating acts can be

mlsread as ends justifying means. A pragmatist like James, Peirce, or Dewey -Iet alone Emerson - is very conIcious of this possibility and will guard against it. But what about a critic like Stanley Fish, say? He revels inexpediency .. 3. A third and related question concerns pragmatic pluralism. The problem here is that pluralism is an unstable. condition that threatens continually to lapse into monism on the one hand and relativism on the other. Pluralism must constantly mediate between the One and the Many, Freedom and Restraint, Authority and Anarchy, in order to maintain its, precarious balance. Pluralism

overcome in his concept of a "liberal conversation," a "lIiberal community." This Rortian idea of "conversation," however, seems to me inadequate, some-

times-even mawkish.

26

27

lhab Hassan

Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Beyond

is, therefore,

a struggle or process subject to constant self-rectiflcation;

it is

B, Prospects
Del:pite these serious objections, I do believe that philosophical pragmatism

not a fixed position. It is not always sure When to say Yes, when to say No, to the endless practical choices it confronts in an open society, 4. Fourth, and perhaps more damaging, is the tendency of pragmatism to beg certain questions, or to substitute one set of questions for another. This is most obvious with regard to consequences which are sometimes just as difficult to evaluate as first principles or founding truths, Even in retrospect, the result good, bad, indifferent? For whom? And who exactly competing interpretations we are not always able to decide the consequences of this act or that belief Was

h.u much to contribute to the openness of our postmodem moment, I say this
knowing full well that pragmatism offers no final answers - that is one of its .r,nsths. Consider briefly the following points'

I.

Pragmatism sets aside, or evacuates. traditional philosophic problems like

Mind and Matter. Freedom and Necessity, Heredity and Environment, Individual and Society, dichotomies which can not be resolved in theory but only

win adjudicate
alternate

claims of success, conflicting opinions of benevolence,

In particular practices. As James put it in a famous anecdote in one of his
lectures: What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind. 2. At the same time, pragmatism reintroduces into our discourse the re-

of harm? The judgment of History or Posterity may be too late

to do any of us any good, and it is just as questionable as any other.

S. Fifth, and most controversial, perhaps, is the accusation that pragmatists
tend to be politically passive, or at least' tolerant of the status quo, In other words, they are accused of being unrevolutionary. This is an accusation that Rorty tries to refute in his later works, beginning with Contingency. Irony,

and Solidarity (1989), by disavowing political and intellectual avant-gardism in liberal democracies. Still, it is possible to criticize Rorty on the grounds that
his "broad based liberal pragmatism" represents "covert self-interests" "conversation" of the "present sociopolitical consensus;" and, more persuasively, that his concept of does not permit for radical disjunctions, violent breaks in dialogue - tbe kind of violence, say, that terrorists justify, I myself see no necessary political quiescence in pragmatism; quite to the contrary, I see an

pressed categories of value, .belief, interest, desire, and power as these affect not only thought but also praxis. Here pragmatism is in accord with Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault, not to mention contemporary decon.struction,

Marx,
of

practitioners

reader response theory, the new historicism, Lacanian psy-

choanalysis, feminism, postcolonial and ethnic studies, and so forth,

3. Pragmatism also has a natural affinity with open, pluralist, democratic societies, which most industrial nations have become. For pragmatism is a I'm ela tor It and" reconci'I"· It to unsnttens, II James satid ,a dd ing: "you see aldi !Jr er; ready how democratic she [pragmatism] is. Her manners are various and flexIble ... and her conclusions

incentive to activism, if not to the bloody revolutions which seem to have become obsolete in postmodern societies. I also believe we should distinguish between pragmatists and pragmatists, those like Emerson, James, and Dewey who were politically active and others who are not.

as friendly as those of mother nature." Well,
pluralism has

perhaps. (Exactly how friendly is "mother nature"?) Postmodem

It ill to undergo its ordeal by rage, resentment, or simple impatience. (Will it
work in the Middle East or the BaJkans?) Be that as it may, we can agree, I think, that in its open, anti-authoritarian stance, pragmatism acknowledges

28

29

Ihab Hassan

difference, otherness; as an element no democratic society should 'eliminate or overcome - can eliminate or overcome, 4. Finally, pragmatism offers itself to us as a realistic and thus provisional attitude, one that does not make huge, utopian claims on us- and so leads to no extermination environments, catastrophes, can first try camps, gulags, massacres, atomic holocausts, defoliated and ethnic purifications. At the same time, pragmatism reminds and escapes" (James), Life is not a game in which intellectuals

John Barth

Postmodernism Revisited

us that life is "sturdy," "dangerous," "adventurous," with "real evil, real crises,

The tide of this talk is "Postmodernism Revisited. tn order to say auf Wiedersehen to it
Qf

II

I suppose that describes

this theory or that while millions of people suffer or die.

what we're all doing here in Stuttgart, whether we're revisiting postmodernism (as is the case with, me) in order to

cury on the project of defining what the term refers to in its various

In Conclusion
In quick conclusion, I would say simply this.. That we are all pragmatists in practice, whatever we may be in theory - all of us who are not zealots, fanatics, terrorists of the mind or heart, or consummate cynics for that matter.

applications. and discovering whether and why it merits our attention. 111have
more to say on this subject in our seminar sessions, as I'm sure my colleagues

win as well: My seminar project will be to clarify the distinction between
(lower-case) to postmodem

culture and (upper-case) Postmodemistfiction;

also
and

examine the Romantic arabesque, especially as conceived by Friedrich

What alternative have we? So long as two different minds seek to apprehend
the universe, no overwhelming force or sweet seduction, no dogma or theory,
will reduce the universe to one,

Schlegel, asa prefiguration of at least one 1cindof contemporary

literasy Postmodernism,

chaos theory as a postmodern science and a scientific analogue

And! when its time comes, pragmatic plural-

to Postmodemist

fiction and to the Schlegelian arabesque.

ism, which has always been diffident anyway,

will also pass into history. Cer-

But before I revisit the more or less chaotic subject of postmodernism

tainly the tremendous geopolitical events of the last decade should remind us that no ideology is adequate to the astonishing inventiveness of human time.

(which I first visited in two little essays written between novels. one eleven
years. ago, the other twenty-four years ago), ] want to speak more generally

That, I suspect.js the burden of astonishment that the Stuttgart Seminars will
carry in the next few years om perishable immortality.
»

Ibout the Tragic View of'Categories-

a view to which I subscribe,

or next few hours. Before the astonishment

of of

Maybe because I'm a novelist by trade, not a professional critic or philoso-

time, through it, we can only travel, translate, improvise a few metaphors

pher, I am by temperament much more Aristotelian than. Platonist in my attitude toward reality: more of a nominalist than a realist, especially as regards u! human beings and the the category

things that we do and make, Heide and William and

J hab and Malcolm and Raymond seem intuitively more real to me than does human beings (not to mention the category literary-critical theoristsy. The cathedrals at Seville and Barcelona and Santiago de Compo-

30

John Barth

Pcstmodernism Revisited

stela seem more substantial than the architectural tenn Spanish Gothic; and the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez .. Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, fiction. and Thomas Pynchon - even the writings of John Harth - have

fhll is what] mean by the Tragic View of Categories: simply that terms like
Iomlnticism, Modernism. Late-Modernism, something and. Postmodernism are more or

1111 uaeful
.. I,ad to

and necessary fictions, very roughly approximate maps, more likely like a destination if they're not confused with what

ontological primacy. to my way of thinking, over the category Postmodemist To me it seems self-evident (although I know very well that it is not) that this rose and that rose and that rose - Heide, Will.iam, and Ihab Rose, so
to speak. - are real items in the world, whereas the tenn rose names an idea i.n our minds, a generality that we achieve only by ignoring enough particularity; and further, that such generalities, while they're. not necessarily illusions, are of

they're meant to be maps oj Ofven the problematical nature of such categories, I am obliged to remind mYlelf now and then why it is that we bother OUf heads with them, and even
Write lectures about them, aside from the circumstance that they happen to be

Indllpensable.
• For one thing, I remind myself, we do it as a kind of shorthand. It's more
IOnvcnient to say "Postmodernist architecture" than it is to recite a list of

an order of reality secondary to that of individual roses. In my (nominalist)
universe,

in short, classes are not unreal, but they're less real than their

members; like Palestinians in. the state of Israel, classes are second-class
citizens in the republic of nominalist reality, On the other hand, categories and similar abstractions, nouns themselves. although they are (to my way of such as common

buUdings here and there around the world that seem to us to share certain dlnificant characteristics . .. No doubt we do it also out of the human urge to articulate widely felt ohanges in perceived cultural-historical reality. Certain decades, for example,
acquire names - the Gay Nineties, the Roaring Twenties, the Swinging Sixties • although the tine tuning of those terms (sometimes even their gross tuning) may be debatable indeed. I may feel that "the American Sixties" began, not on

thinking) more or less
even to sanity. See

fictions, are nevertheless and obviously indispensable fictions: indispensable to thought and discourse, to cognition and comprehension, how blithely I have divided reality already, in just a couple of paragraphs, cathedrals and roses and paragraphs,

iota

Aristotelians and Platonists, classes and members, novelists and theorists and like a fisherman culling his catch. See

January
Prtlident

I, 1960, but on November

22, 1963, with the assassination
110t

of on

John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald, and that they ended

how glibly I deploy even such a fishy fiction as the pronoun I, as if - though
more than half of the cells of my physical body replace themselves in the time it takes me to write one book (and I've written eleven), and I've forgotten much more than I remember about my childhood, and the fellow who did things under my name forty years ago seems as alien to me now in many ways as an extraterrestrial - as if despite those considerations there really is a

December 31, 1969, but on Yom Kippur 1973 with Egypt's attack on Israel

and the consequent Arab oil embargo; you may have quite other benchmarks. 1
One of my undergraduate
professors at Iohns Hopkins, the great Romance philologist Leo Spitzer. used to say that it's very useful for students to imagine

that something called the Renaissance began at half past two on a Thursday
afternoon in 127'2. let's say. with the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, and that it ended with the announcement on the 11 o'clock news of October 31, 1572,

meaningful antecedent to the tirst person singular pronoun. It is. a far-fetched fiction indeed, as the German Romantics understood
and as David Hume

pointed out before them (in his Treatise oj Human. Nature', 1738); but if I did
not presume and act upon it, not only would I go insane; I would be insane.

IThe an critic David Hickey has declared thai for him, American Postmodemisrn begins wllh President Kennedy's assassination, in particular the SUbsequent assassination of the 1I.~lIssjnby Jack Ruby and the endless television replays of those serial assassinations: the lIIultiple, high-tech coup de grace to a certain diehard U.S. optimism.

32

33

Johl'l Barth

that Martin Luther had nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. Tune in tomorrow for the Reformation. Later on, said Spitzer, we may want adjust those ,benchmarks by a decade or maybe half a century. Some revisionists may even dispute the whole concept: How many people truly swung in the Sixties, roared in: the Twenties, felt a spirit of cultural rebirth in the 300 years that we're in the habit of calling the Renaissance? The only answer is: a small but (for users of the category) epoch-making minority. - Finally, it must be acknowledged that in the 20th-century art world i.n particular, one may "declare a kingdom in order to proclaim bim&elfking." My fanner Johns Hopkins colleague Hugh Kenner made this observation vis-a-vis literary Postmodernism, for which he has little use except insofar as the category includes Samuel Beckett (for Kenner, everything after Joyce and Beckett is bubblegum and styrofoam). As a general observation I would not only second Kenner's proverb but extend it to literary critics as well: They may declare 'an entire era - "the Pound era, ~ for example - in order to do quite the same thing. But let's confine ourselves to the more creditable of those motives just mentioned; motives for coining and using such terms as Modernism and Postmodernism. Most of us would agree, I hope, that Western culture lives in time and that there really do seem to be significant differences of cultural spirit between the American (and French and West and East German 19508 and 1960s, say; or between the works of the 19th~century painters Who came to be called Impressionists and the works of the 20th-century painters who called themselves Abstract Expressionists; or between novels that begin with sentences like Tolstoy'S "Happy familiesase all aliike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," and novels that begin with sentences like Joyce's "riverrun, past Eve's and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a cornmodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. n We may even agree that there are significant differences of spirit between Mies van der Rohe's Seagram building in Manhattan and Philip Johnson's AT&T building in that same neighborhood, whatever we happen to

think of the buildings themselves; and. that there are aesthetic differences, perhaps even comparable ones, between those opening words of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which I quoted a moment ago, and those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years 0/ Solitude, which I'm about to quote now, as well as between the novels that follow those opening sentences.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took
him

to discover ice,

We have arrived at Postrnodernism, which is where I came in two and a half decades ago and Professor Hassan several years before that. If my approach toa revisit this morning has been particularly tentative and crabwise, that is because my experience with the term and with the various phenomena that it has been used to name has 'been similarly SQ. I would like to review that experience with you now: my personal and! particular interest in this thing 'called Postmedernism beyond my general interest in trying
to

understand.

what's going on around me: what my artistic predecessors, contemporaries, and successors have been and are up to, You see before you a 61-year-old storyteller, mainly a novelist" who - as a student in the 1940s and 50s - cut his apprentice literary teeth on the likes of Franz Kafka. Thomas Mann, James Joyce, T- S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Faulkner: the old masters of what we now call literary Modernism, as that last term is understood in many parts of the world.2

2But not in all: el modernismo, in Spain and Latin America, has a quite different reference: to the writings of the Nicaraguan Ruben Oarfo and his followers in Spain and Latin America in the 1880s and '90s: writings particularly abundant in symbolic swans. When the SpaniSh writer Federico de Onis apparently coined the term "postmodemism" in 1934, he was describing a Hispanic reaction against Hispanic modemismo; a reaction sometimes described as "wringing the neck of ilie swan." It is no more relevant to our subject here than Arnold Toynbee's use of the term postmodern a few years later in his famous work A Study of History, This Hispanic distinction got me into trouble with Octavio Paz, to whom I shaU

return presently.

34

35

John Barth

Pcstmodernlsm Revisited

When my first novel was published in the mid- I 950s, it was approved by the
critic Leslie Fiedler as an example of "provincial American existentialism."

Beckett,

Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garda

Marquez.

I had

hoped that some women would join the crew the next time the ship changed
names; would be assigned to the crew, I ought to say, since the artists themselves are not normally certainty strengthened the critics referring to? You will understand that by this time I found that familiar question less than urgent.

That description intrigued me; like a good provincial, I went and. read Sartre
and Camus to learn what Existentialism was, and having done so, I concurred with Mr. Fiedler (who later became a colleague and friend), if not altogether with Sartre and Camus. Ifpeople have had a Tsshirt printed EXISTENTIALIST.

consulted in these matters. In any case, the team was
by those world-class additions. But what exactly were

had done such things in those days, I would
AMERICAN

tip for myself: PROVINCIAL

AU the same, it interested

me that

those

who

used the term

My second novel, however, published a couple years later, was generally
assigned by its reviewers to down

Postmodernist, at least with respect. to literature, seemed considerably tess in
agreement about its reference than had the users of labels like Fabulist and If James Joyce was a Modernist, was Samuel Beckett then a Indeed, if the Joyce of Ulysses: was a Modernist, had the Black Humorist. Postmodernist? Joyce

a. new

category called Black Humor. I buckled

and read such alleged fellow American Black Humorists

as John
Black

Hawkes, Kurt Vormegut, and (when he arrived on the scene) Joseph Heller, and I decided that this was not a bad team to be on: the Existential Humorists. It sounds like a sophisticated punk-rock group. But

Wake already moved on to Postmodernism? Were Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Diderot's Jacques Iefataliste protoof Finnegan's Modernist
OJ

my third. fourth, and fifth books, published through the 1960s, came to
no longer as Existentialist or Black Humorist, but as Fabulist, too, as well as Robert

proto-Postrnodernist?

More important,

was the whole phe-

be described

nomenon, whatever it was, no more than a pallid ghost of the powerful moralcultural-aesthetic force that international Modernism had been in the first half of this century., or was

and the term was made retroactive to those earlier productions Coover,

to the fiction of John Hawkes again and now of Donald Barthelme, some of my new (and old) teammates.

it a positive new direction in the old art of storytelling,
jt

Stanley Elkin, William Gass, and Thomas Pynchon, to name only As before, I dutifully did my home-

and in other arts as well? Was something

a repudiation

of the great Modernists

at

whose figurative feet I had sat and whom]

still greatly admired, or was it dialectic Western Civ at least since

work: I read up on those of my fellow Fabulists with whom I wasn't already familiar, and I decided I liked that term - and that team - even better than I

evolved from them, some next stage of the ongoing

between artistic generations that has characterized

had liked its predecessors. But of course I went right on doing what iit seemed
to me I had always done: not

the advent of Romanticism in (11m going to say) the latter 18th century?

particularly thinking in terms of Existentialism,

My opportunity

to find out came at the close of the ] 970s. In 1979, the "America in the 19708," and the Literatopic "Postmodern American Fiction.
II

Black Humor, or Fabulism, but (in my nominalist way) putting this sentence after that one, and the next one after this one - learning "by going where I

Deutsche Gesellschaft for Amerikastudien, convening in Tubingen, took as
the general subject of its conference ture section chose as its particular Three North

have to go, as the poet Theodore Roethke puts it.
II

Sure enough, just when I had gotten frequency I found myself categorized U.S. teammates

It

pretty good idea what Fabulism was,

American. writers - William Gass, John Hawkes,

and myself,

in the early 1970s the stuff began to be called

Postmodernist, With increasing
foreign ones: Samuel

were invited to Tubingen as guests of the conference, a kind of'Iive exhibit. currency in literature as well as in architecture

By

under that label, not only with myoid

that time (thanks to Ihab Hassan and others) the term really had gained wide and painting; I even had. a

but with some new, really first-rate

36

37

John Barth

Postmodemlsm Revisited

rough idea how it might be applied to what was going on in my own shop. But when I looked over some of the standard critical texts (faithfuUy doing my homework again), I was surprised to find that although the century was by about what about that ti~e 79% expired, there was still considerable disagreement

magazine, not the nearby ocean), where a dozen years before I had published
some reflections on what back then I called "the literature of exhaustion." symphonies,

In

the 1967 essay I had argued that Beethoven's

far example, if

the term MOdernism means, or meant, not to mention Postmodernism, understand art-historical now that a fair amount of that disagreement

composed today, would be an aesthetic embarrassment unless their composer were an utterly uninnocent virtuoso exquisitely aware of where we've been
irony. And here is and where we are - almost a. prescription for Postmodemist

which (at least in its literary aspect) no two authorities seemed to agree. (I 'COmeS from confusing the adjective "modern" in the cultural-historical

sense with "Modernist" in the
with "Postmodernist."

the summarized conclusion of that Tubingen essay of 1979, "The Literature of

sense, and likewise "postmodern"

But I

Replenishment" :
If the Modernists, carrying the torch of Romanticism, taught us that linearity, rationality, consciousness, cause and effect, naive illusionism,transparent language, innocent anecdote, and middle-class moral conventions are not the whole story, then from the perspective of these closing decades of our century we may appreciate that the contraries of these things arenot the whole story either. Disjunction, simultaneity, irrationalism, self-reflexiveness, medium-as-message, political olympianism [and the topos of artist-as-hero, from Goethe through Byron down to Joyce] . . . these field-identifleatio» marks. of Modernism are not the whole story either, ... My ideal Postmodermstauthor neither merely repudiates nor merely imitates either his twentieth-century Modernist parents or his nineteenth-century premodernist grandparents. He has the first half of our century under his belt, but not on his back. Without lapsing into moral or artistic simplism, shoddy craftsmanship, Madison Avenue venality, or either false or real naivete, he nevertheless aspires to a fiction more democratic :in its appeal than such late-Modernist marvels as Beckett's Texts for Nothing . . . . The ideal Postmodemist novel will somehow rise above the quarrel betweenreallsm and irrealism, formalism and "eontentism," pure and committed literature, coterie fiction. and junk fiction .... Et cetera: There is more to the definition and more to the argument, but

did not properly appreciate that distinction at the time.) So I leaped into the breach - rather. I sidled crabwise into it - and drafted a little talk for the Geseliscbaft on what I thought the term. "Postmodernist" ought to mean, if it was going to describe anything very good very well. Armed with my tentative definition/prescription, my fellow former Fabulists that our German hosts, the spoke of Postrnodernism Et Cetera, I went off to Tubingen with and there I found to my mild dismay

object of whose meticulous curiosity we were,

as if it were already as indisputable a cultural-hi-

storical phenomenon as the Counter Reformation or the Great Depression of
the \9308. Their literary discussion, and it was extensive, had to do mainly with refining the boundaries and establishing the canon; there was so much Late confident bandying of adjectives and prefixes, - Righ Postraodernisrn,

Postrnodernism,

Proto-Postmodemism,

Post-Postmodernism

- that at. the end

of one session a visiting American student remarked to us, "They left outPost

Toasties" [the American breakfast cereal].
Moreover - perhaps on the principle that birds have no business discoursing upon ornithology ~ our very hospitable hosts were not interested in hearing my lecture on their SUbject. My fellow live exhibitsand instead, no doubt a sounder idea. All the same, I had thought what I had thought and I had seen what 1 had said (to myself) on the subject of Postmodernist published my reflections in The Atlantic I read from our fiction

that's the simple general idea. I had in mind, obviously, such fine examples as Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jose Donoso's A H01Jse in the Country and Italo Calvino's and Salman Rushdie'sMidnight's Children.

If on

a Winter's Night a Traveler

a

fiction. When I got home I mean the American monthly

38

39

John Barth

Posemodemism Revisited

Now, then: The difference between professional intellectuals and professional artists who are perhaps amateur intellectuals is that the former (the

Art manifestation, from that moment in Walt Disney's 1940 movie Fantasia when Mickey Mouse mounts the conductor's podium and shakes hands with Leopold Stokowski, I like that, though it certainly pushes the time-frame back. But yet another art critic, Tom McEvilly. speaks of an Egyptian postmodernism from the Middle Kingdom and a Roman posrmodernism from the

professional intellectuals) publish articles and essays in 'order to share their learning, whereas we latter may publish the odd essay-between-novels in order has

to share our ignorance. so that: those more learned can come to our rescue. It
is a strategy that never fails. My little essay art literary Postmodernism been translated and reprinted a number of times over the past eight years, and my rescuers have been numerous. Although I sdll hold to my basic notion of what Postmodemist fiction is, or what it ought to be if it is to deserve out' over who should be admitted into is attention, I had (uniil this Stuttgart visit) happily withdrawn from the ongoing
disputes over its definition and its canon: the club or (depending on the critic's point of view) clubbed into admission,

Silver Age; for McEvilly, lower-ease postmodernism (likelowef.Case tual-romantic
(of which 20th·century

cham-

pagne) is the periodic swing of the pendulum of' Western Civ from the spiriModernism is certainly an instance)
Irony, the Enjoyable, toward the rational-skeptlceli

Umberto Eco, in his 1983 book Postmodemism,

is a

good deal kinder to my essay than Senor paz was. and very illuminating on

the ironic "double coding, " as he calls it, characteristic of much postmodern
art and life. I 'quote Signor Boo:
. - fbI; postmodem attitude [is] that of a man who loves a very sophisticated woman and knows he cannot say to her, 'I love you madly,' because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he. knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cart-

Postmoderuist,

I ten myself serenely, is what I am; ergo, Postmodernism

whatever I do, together with my crewmetes-this-time-around,

until the critics

rename the ship again. Moreover, it is what / do whether I do it well or badly: a much more important critical consideration, in my view, to which I shall
return.

But as I go on doing whatever it: is that I do, I note with respect and mild interest observations on the .subject made by my peers and betters. Octavia Paz, in the Mexican literary organ La Jornada Semanal, declared huffily that since I've got el modernismo all wrong (that special Hispanic distinction which anyhow he again), I can scarcely be trusted with el postmodermsmo,

land. Still, there is a solution He can say. 'As Barbara Cartland would put it, ] love yOll madly.' At this. point, having avoided false

was already writing about decades ago, under a different term, as I would have known were Lnotjust one more gringo ethnocentric. There's a rescuer
for you • about whom I shall have more to say in my seminar sessions. The writers whom I call Postmodernist, Modernist;
fOJ

innocence, having said clearly that it 1-S no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that be loves her, but he loves bet in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with 'this; she will have received adeclaration of love all the same. Neither of the speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated, both will consciously and

Susan Sontag and William Gass call Late the mini-

3r

Sontag, at least, the American Postmodernistsare Ellis, David Leavitt, and company

malist-reahsts of the 1970s and 80s; the late Raymond Carver, Arm Beattie, Brett Eastwood
>

whom I would call The Australian· least in its Pop

cuturally postmodern

but not aesthetically Postmodernist.

American art critic Robert Hughes dates Postmodernism.vat

like that, too: Indeed, in "The Literature of Replenishment," I referred to the Middle Kingdom scribe Kakheperresenb as a postmodernist, "Kakheperresenb's Complaint," as r call it, is a papyrus from. about 2000 B.G.frettingthat its author has arrived on the literary s~ne too, late; that 'his predecessors have exhausted Ihe best effects of the language already. It IS one of the earliest documents of Mittem hterature; moreover, it turns Ol)t to be a speeimen of a genre that Egyp101ogist'i call Complaint Literature. As for 20th-century literary Postmodernism, r myself date it from when many of US stopped worrying about the death of the novel (a very Modemistworryj and began worrying 'instead about the death of the reader, and of the planet

40

41

John Barth

with pleasure play the game of irony .. But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love. To this I say Bravo, Umberto: Indeed, iffor the term "Barbara Cartland" we
substitute the difference

the history of their medium. On the basis of this distinction, Jencks classifies the Pompidou Center in 'Paris, for example [with its abstract patterns of boldly exposed and brightly painted pipes and trusses], as Late Modernist, and

term "the history of literature up until the day before yesterday,"
the premodemist English novelist William Makepeace Chilean novelist Jose Donoso,

Robert Graham's Olympic Arch in Los Angeles - with its truncated classical nude bronze torsos balancing on inverted metal cones on a. black granite

there is the very burden of my sermon. It makes clear also, incidentally, the
between Thackeray, for example,and the Postmodemist

dolmen like a streamlined ruin - as Postmodernist. But lim not sure how far
this interesting distinction can be carried over into literature. It is true that many of the writers called Postmodernist have looked to various sorts of myth for their material - whether classical myths or such pop mythologies as comic

whom I mentioned awhile back. When Thackeray, at the end of Vanity Fair, says of his novel and its characters, "Come, children, let us shut up the box

and the puppets, for our play is played out," he is making in 1&48 an authorintrusive rhetorical flourish of a sort familiar at least since the early 11th century (e.g, in Don Quixote), 20th-century and he is making it in the same spirit as

books and old Hollywood movies - as well as to pre-modem narrative forms, like the tale, the fable, and the, gothic or the epistolary novel; also to premodern narrative devices, such as Donoso's intrusive, commenting author. But Joyce did that, too, in Ulysses4, and if Modernism, fact,

Cervantes; it is not really meant to be anti-illusionary at all. When such earlywriters as the Andre Gide of The Counterfeiters

Ulysses, that benchmark of novelistic
I for one begin to
definition of

and the Miguel

must be reclassified as Postmodemist,

de Unamuno of Mist and the Luigi Pirandello of Six Characters in Search of an Au thor begin to challenge the reality of their characters (or have their own

experience vertigo. I think I'll stay with Umberto Reo's "double coding"; in

I think

Jill

stay

with

my

own

rough-and-ready

reality challenged by their characters) and otherwise foreground the inescapable artifice of their art, we recognize that we are in the land of Modernism. But when Donoso declares to uselegantlly and elaborately from time to time in A House in the Country {Casa de Campo, 1984) that he has no wish to trick us into believing that his characters are real or that their joys and sufferings are any more than ink-marks on paper - and then immediately beguiles
US

Postmodernism, seminar].

quoted earlier [though we sha1l have more to say about it in

So: How is literary Postmodernism doing these days, and what Post-Postmodernism, if any, lies around the next cultural-historical-aestheucal corner?

In the art of architecture - public, commercial, residential - there can be no
question that Postmod is where the action is, for better or worse. Almost nobody builds plain old International-Style curtain-wall boxes any more; every new shopping mall has its ironic steel-and-glass gable ends, false fronts, cupolas, quotations from the Victorian, whatever. The style has triumphed, with the usual distribution of excellent, mediocre, and horrendous specimens that

back into the gorgeous, monstrous reality of his fable - he is "double coding" like Umberto Eco's lovers; he is coolly but passionately having it both ways
with illusionism and anti-illusionism. That strikes me as legitimately Postmod, and - more important, mote. important - in the hands of a good storyteller it works. I'm interested too in the observation by the British architect Charles Jencks that whereas Modernist artists characteristically foreground the processes of

one finds in any established style. Likewise in painting, I gather: The Lucian Freuds and David Hockneys are getting the attention that the Frank Stell as

their medium, Postmodernist artists incline to foreground (ironically, as a rule)

literature in echo of Mrs. Purefoy's pregnancy and diffioul.t labor.

4E.g. in the "Oxen of tho Sun" chapter, which lovingly parodies the evolution of English

42

43

John Barth

Postmcdemlsm Revisited

and the Mark Rothkos formerly got, But although most of the leading practitioners of what is called Postmodernist fiction are by no means finished yet with their careers (despite the title of this Stuttgart

win

have other examples). Conversely, he or she may be really quite good

without being otherwise especially import.amt (I think: ofthe late Joyce Carey, of the late Henry Green, of the late Graham Greene, of others, not yet late, whom I shall not name). Alas, it is the: misfortune of many, many published writers, no doubt of most of
US,

Seminar), and may feel

themselves to be still in the process of exploring the style Gust as their critics

are still defining and debating the term), it cannot be doubted that in North American fiction, at least, the pendulum swung in the a 9808 from the overtly self-conscious, process-and-history-conscious, minimalist nee-realism and often fabulistic work of aforementioned: "Diet Pepsi Barthelme, Coover, Elkin, Gass, Hawkes, Pynchon, Barth & Co. toward that early-Hemingwayish realism," "K-Mart minimalism," etc. Indeed, I suppose that at present these
are the two main streams of contemporary U.S. fiction of the literary sort fiction which, in Joseph Conrad's words, "aspires to the condition of art" -

to be neither especially good nor particularly

important; and it is the fortune of a very few to. be both artistically excellent and historically significant. Since art is long and life is short. those are surely the writers (if we can name them) to whom we ought to give our prime-time attention. Among OUf contemporaries, I quite believe, a few of these few are what has come to be called Postmodernist.

though there are many who. would say that the best American work in the medium is being done by writers not usually associated with either of these traditions: writers such as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Joyce Oates, William Styron, Anne Tyler, John Updike, and their younger counterparts.f be, though I must be excused for not thinking so. In
any

That may

case (back to my starting point), be' it remembered tbat the question a particular novel
Of

whether

painting

or building is Late Modern,

Postmodern,

Post-Postmodern,

or none of the above, while it's not an

unworthy question, is of less importance -at least in my opinion it ought to be so - than the question Is it terrific? As we say sometimes in American, Does it
knock your socks off? [Your know/edgeab/esocks,

I mean.]

In this connection - the Knowledgeable Socks-Knocking Connection -, it's
worth remembering that in literature, at least, an artist may be historically notable without being especially good (for this reader" alas, Gertrude Stein is one of those, Theodore Dreiser another, Sinclair Lewis yet another; others

SIncluding the ever-more-numerous "ethnics" of our literary multieultare:

Blacks, Asians,

Hispanics, "Native Americans," etc.

44

45

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism and After (part One)
You must have a lirttle patience. I have undertaken, you SOO, to write not only my life but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my cl:wacter, and of what kind of a mortal I am [...] would give you a better relish
the slight

us, will grow

of the other: As you proceed further with me, acquaintance whichis now beginning betwixt into familiarity '"

[TRISTRAM SHANDy]

A Nostalgic Reconsideration
Culture is a machine that backtracks into time, and art - literature especially - creates the past by transforming the present into unforgettable circumstances, that is to say cir-cumstances that can be remembered. quoted, recited. Preparing this presentation I faced an interesting decision: Should J speak of Postmodernism

I.

(and more specifically Postmodern fiction, since that is my
of

subject) in the present tense or in the past tense? Soon after the great Samuel Beckett died on December 22, 1989, amend

mine wrote me in a letter of condolence: "Sam has now changed tense I"
Yes, perhaps Postmodernism also changed tense on December 22, 1989, writer. with the death of Samuel Beckett - the first and the last Postmodem

The first: for if anyone can be said to have invented Postmodern fiction, it was

certainly Samuel Beckett. Murphy & Watt are the first Postmodern novels
And Beckett was the last Postmodem writer because he was the last great

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodemism and After (part One)

artist of our time" the last of the Mohicans, ofPostmDdem

as he was once called. Stirrings

If Stirrings Still (Beckett's last words) speaks of death, it is not, however, the type of death which transforms final words into a testament. It speaks, as Beckett did for fifty years, of this supreme indecision which gathers in itself all contradictions

Still (Soubresau/ts. in French), the final work of Beckett, is also the last gasp fiction,
I cannot resist quoting a few Jiines from Stirrings Still, aot only to prove what I have just said about Beckett, but especially because these lines may be the best illustration of how Postmodernism functioned: But soon weary of vainly delving in those remains he moved on through the long hoar grass resigned to not knowing where he was or how he got there or where he was going or how to get back to whence he knew not how be came. As Beckett relentlessly demonstratedin his work, and once again at the 'end,

without deluding them. This, I believe, is what Postmodernism
which.

was aU about: A Supreme Indecision! We are gathered here today to discuss The End of rostmodernism, 'come here to bury Postmodernism to me also means The Death of Postmodemism. In other words. we have

...

But Postmodernism was an honorable activity. Many of us survived on it, and so rather than rejoice because we finally got rid of this cumbersome term
we should perhaps deplore the end of Postmodernism, After all, for some
D~

us, who at one time or another were involved in fabricating Postmodem Postmodern gatherings to which I was invited. Ah the wild Postmodem

ficeve-

with this remarkable piece of syntax: the search for the means to put an end to things '. an end to language, an end to literature - is what enabled the Postmodem discourse to perpetuate itself. There is in Stirrings Still (inscribed in the title as well as :in the entire text, and clearly demonstrated

tion, it was fun while it lasted. And I have fond memories of some of the nings of wine tasting

in Wurzburg, the wild Postmodem poker games in Mil-

waukee, the wild Postmodern intellectual and social orgies in Buffalo, and in so many other exotic places! Yes, I have fond memories of all these wild Postmodern happenings. And so, before leaving Postmodernism behind,. we should

by the passage I just quoted) the simultaneous afconditions: movement and

firmation of two incompatible and contradictory

immobility. Yes, there is in this final Beckett text a moving immobility. To stir, of course, means to move. The term Stirrings supposes that there is Still

perhaps ask, for the last time: what was it? What made it possible? What political, social, aesthetic conditions so radicaljy transformed the writing of fiction during the past four decades or so? Yes, before exploring the aftennath tions" of Postmodernism modernism. However, even though my fiction has often been labeled Postmodern, and I of Postmodernism - the "New Direc(as these are now the topics of many conferences in

movement. But the term still (ambiguous as it is here) implies immobility. On the one hand. then, an affirmation of movement, on the other the declaration of
non-movement. This contradictory condition of movement and immobility, words and si-

many parts of the: world), we should perhaps talk about the before of Post-

lence; wandering and internment, was the basis on which. the entire oeuvre of
Samuel Beckett was founded, but I would venture to affirm, that this contra-

dictory condition of moving immobility (this aporia, as Beckett was fond of
calling it) was fundamental to the making and the unmaking of Postmodernism.

have read many books written about Postmodernism (for I am vain enough to
search in every book for the mention of my name, but sardonic enough to mock my own eagerness), quite frankly I have never understood what Postmodernism was. Or as Beckett's Unnamable once put it: "To tell the truth, let

48

49

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism

and After (Part One)

us be honest at least, .it is Sonle considerable time now since I last knew what I was talking about" In fact, I believe that no one really knew what Postmodemism was, except,

journal, space capsules, the anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, cold dark matter, the attack on the metaphysics of presence, the general attenuation of feelings in Mankind, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of the post-war generation of Baby-boomers confronting the disillusionment of middle-age, the predicament of reflexivity (but not mentioned irritation o(self-reOexiveness), the the stubbornness of rhetorical tropes, the

perhaps, Ihab Hassan (who not only invented Postmodernism, in spite of what others may claim, but watched over it for many years, until Postmodemism took the wrong turn). Yes, I do not think that those writers who were labeled Postmodem it was, what (for aU I know some may be present here) ever understood what

proliferation of surfaces, the new phase in commodity fetishism, the fascination for images, codes and styles, political or existential fragmentation, the decentering of the subject, the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality , of power formations, the implosion of meaning, the collapse of cultural bierachies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear destruction, the decline of the, university, endangered animal species, the functioning and effects of the new miniaturized technologies, the sense of placelessness or the abandonment of placeless ness (depending on who you read), etc., etc. I skipped a few, but the one thing missing from this list tion, and that is interesting. For now that Postmodemism

it meant, how it functioned, and yet continued to produce works

of fiction which were truly Postmodern. But now that the entire world, the entire universe for that matter has become Postmodern, these writers can now stand back and watch, with some degree of amusement, the consequences w.hat they set in motion some years ago. Yes , the entire Universe has become Postmodern, A Newsweek article .about astronomy used the term postmodern to describe the strange behavior of certain cosmic bodies in the galaxies, and recently I saw an advertisement in a glossy fashion magazine describing of

is Postmodem fichas taken over all

am evening gown as being Postmodern,

and I understand that McDonald and Burger King are furiously competing to produce the first Postmodern Hamburger. And didn't we watch just a few months ago the first postmodem War specially made for television, played in the present tense twentyfour hours a day, and now available for replay on video tape from CNN for $24.951 But that's not all, Here is an inventory of cultural items which have been described as Postmodem. [ found that list on page 139 of a collection of essays, just published in England, entitled Postmodernism and Contemporary Fiction (edited by Edmund J. Smyth).

human and animal activities, and in the process those of us who inadvertently created Postmodem works of fiction have been forgotten, or relegated to the zone of non-being, it may be the right time for us to look back and consider, reconsider calmly what we did, how we did it, and why we did it?

n.
The Migration of Postmodern Fiction
"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now." These are, of course, the opening words of Gravity's Rainbow. Indeed, like a screaming across the sky, Postmodern fiction came and went, and there is nothing to compare it to now. It passed by, overhead, and even by-passed us. But then that

Postmodern Now:
The decor of a room" the design of a building, the diagesis of a film, the making of a Rock & Roll disk or a MTV video tape, a television commercial or a documentary, the intertexutal relations between a television commercial and a documentary, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or a critical

us

true of all avant-garde movements: to by-pass

50

51

Raymond. Federman

Before Postmodernism

and Afte'r (part One)

and be by-passed, All great avant-garde movements never have time to finish
what they set out to accomplish. Postmodern fiction was also interrupted.

In this sense, by contemplating its own demise and its own impossibility, Postmodern fiction may, after all, have met John Gardner's criteria for Moral
Fiction;

It is true, though, that an avant-garde movement can never, and should

never achieve its purpose, otherwise it ceases to be avant-garde- By its very
nature .• that of opposing or re-jecting established modes of creation, an avantgarde movement is destined to tentativeness and unfinishness. That is the paradox of avant-gardism. Struggling within the confines of self-reflexive orientation, the avant-garde bears curious witness to an ambiguous state of mind.
It displays a creative and critical vitality, yet raises only minimal expectations ..

"true moral fiction", wrote John Gardner some years ago, "is an experiment too difficult and dangerous to try in the World, but safe and imporCertainly death must be the example par excellence of something too diffi-

tant in the mirror image ofreaJity in the writer's mind." cult and dangerous to try in the world.Postmodem
death,

fiction experimented with

or rather with its own death. It won. Like a screaming ... no, better

yet, like a ghost it passed across the sky, for it is clear from aU the discussion still going on today about Postmodemism that a pantheon is in the process of being constructed for it, however reluctantly. When I was a boy, in Paris" quite a few years ago, and a plane passed overhead in the sky, everyone would rush out into the street to follow its flight. Pointing to the sky with one finger we would all shout. with a. tone of wonderment: "Regarde, regarde, un avion .....Oh, comme c'est beau!" But I think we were also wondering: How the hell does it stay up there?
Posnnodemism is (was) that plane! How the hen did

Its most significant innovations involve the self-conscious exploration of the nature, limits. and possibilities of art. But the vision of the future that avantgarde art provides is always tentative and unclear, as if unable to see beyond doubt and distrust.
That was true of Post modem fiction too: it could not see beyond doubt and

distrust, but at the same time it made of doubt and distrust an occasion, and that was its strength. Other movements (not necessarily avant-garde) always interrupt what is in progress. Cubism interrupted. Impressionism, Constructivism put an end to Cubism, Surrealism negated Dadaism, Structuralism displaced Existentialism,
and so on. What is not clear so far, however, is what interrupted Postmodernism? Certainly not the uninspired Minimalist: Ie·Mart Fiction of the last

it manage to survive its

own death for four decades?
In one of those so-called Postmodem tion one of the characters

novels, entitled The Two-fold Vibra-

tells an other;

decade, nor Cyberpunk

Fiction, nor Hi-Tech Fiction, nor Sudden Fiction, nor

Illuminated Fiction, nor Transfietion, or whatever term qualifies fiction these

days on the covers of anthologies.
No, Postmodern fiction was not killed by any of these things, it simply came

and went like II flock of migratory birds, and we followed its. flight across the sky, and watched it disappear over the horizon. Out of a strange necessity, but
above all because it carried in itself its own demise (epistemological and ontological doubt conveyed through disjointed formal structures) Postmodernism had to either die or go elsewhere and become something else, which is what it did, even though it continues to be called by the same name. 52

You have found a way 10 make your past live by pointing to its grave with your finger and of course we can't catch you at it, it's just a metion, a. gesture, a clever substitution, and this way you put aU your guilt on others, on us, but the fact that you choose to speak about it, even evasively, and write about it too, is that transcendence or esCZlpe? .To which, the other character replies: Yes, that's exactly the problem, exactly what my life isall about, and my writing too" escape or transcendence, you've put your finger right on it, though I would say more escaping than transcending.

53

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodemism

and After (Part One)

story of Robert Coover, which opens with a. writer who in order to get started

1think
dence,

Postmodern

fiction was exactly that: both an escape and a transcen-

spelts out this message: It is important to begin when everything is already over. This does 110t mean that I am proposing we all commit suicide immediately. but the death of Postmodemism may have given us the possibility ofa new
shoots himself His blood hits the wall and beginning, Have the chance for a rebirth" anything? Perhaps we should

III. The Premature Death of Postmodernism
Did I say that Postmodernism
Beckett moment) Borges, changed tense? That was dying at the very moment and continued Michel Foucault, John Coitrane's mas Bernhard, have forgotten, died on December 22, 1989, when

we learnedl

go

back

and

reread that

in-

credible passage near the end of

Malone Dies

(yes, Beckett

again) where Old

Samuel
started to that

Malone speaking)

who earlier on had said, I shall die without enthusiasm. somehow into death. Here is that passage: All is ready. Except me. I am being given, if I may venture the expression, birth to into deatb, such is my impression. The feet are clear already, of the great cant ofexistence, Favorable presentation I trust. My head will be last to die. Haul in your hands. I can't, The render rent My story ended, I'll be living yet, Promising lag. That is the end of me, I shall say I no more,

only

the final gasp. Postmodemism date one ascribes as Vladimir Julio Cortazar, such figures

manages to outwit and outlive his own death by being reborn (in a manner of

it

Was born (whatever

dying when

Nabokov, Jorge Luis

Roland Barthes, type of jazz was

George Perec,

Italo Calvino, John Coltrane (I threw that name in
and

to

remind us that

also postmodem), Donald Barthelme, Thonot too long ago Jerzy Kosinski, and, others, many others I
Postmodernism a

also changed tense, most of'themprematurely.

was a long list of names - a great many now absent, though ones are still present. But Postmodernism was also Abstract Expressionism, Semiotics,

few

stubborn Roman,

This was written circa 1949. But of Beckett creature

C{)UfSeMalone,

or whatever

name the

invented for itself, continued to die for another forty years.

Le Nouveau

There may not be any New discernible Directions modernism, take advantage of this opportunity.

Structuralism,

Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction,

ism, Conceptualism, demonstrated However,

rediseover·ed Russian FormalMeta-fiction. Anti-tletion, Surfiction,
convincingly

yet

at The End of PostLet us

but there is certainly the possibility of a new beginning.

New Journalism, and even Rock & Roll as Larry Meedery
in a recent essay in The American

all these names, all these terms
and yet, somehow Yes, something

Book R,vllW. suddonly Mom 10 dated - passe &

And who knows" perhaps we are already in this new beginning. Or to paraphrase John Barth at the beginning of the slight alteration); dled Iiong enough] voyage." Back "'We would be happy

depass« happened.

SABBATICAL to give it

(I'm sure be won't mind another

go;

we have fidsabbatical

I have a vague feeling that we never knew what

happened, but we don't know whit. Postmodernism by-passed us in a flash, and we still have not come to terml with it. Having come to The End ef Postmodemllm, and .t the ume time the end
of Post modem Fiction, at least we now have I so in the spirit of perpetual beginnings.

with our tale through this whole (postmodern] conference,

in.

1974, at a Postmodem

or rather I should say, a confer-

chlnce

ence on Postmodern

fiction, in Milwaukee

by

the way, ali antagonistic

critic

for I nCliW beghung,

and that

it

might be good 10 remember

S4

55

Raymood Federman

Before Postmodernism

and After (pan One)

drew a line on the blackboard
line represented

and explained to the audience

that this straight

IV.

the history of narrative from its beginning to its end ...

The Era of Suspklen
When the Writer, the Penman, LHomme and personally, when Federman de Plume, or to speak more openly lst, 1966 (he was in to write,
SUPPQS~

Digression
Had Samuel Beckett
to its impossible end."

sat down on October

been present,

he would probably

have added, with beginning

a

Paris then, spending

the year on some generous

fellowship

touch of irony, remembering

The Lost Ones:

"iTom its unthinkabJe

edly, a scholarly book about New Trends in Contemporary
write the first sentence

French Poetry, lst, 1966, to

of which there were none), when Federman sat down on October

Then the critic drew a small deviation in the line, a little loop, and turning to
the captive audience that had assembled on that day either to accept or reject

of double or nothing (his first novel ~ first published goes like this: Once upon a time (two or three weeks

novel) ."
[That tint sentence

Postmodern
continued

fiction (in those, days, one was for or against

everything),

be

to explain that this deviation
reasons narrative

was the Postrnodern

moment, that for
from the

ago), a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record forposterity ... and so on]. ..
sat down to write that first sentence curious When, I was saying, Federman things were happening letters. Marshall French McLuhan had

some unexplained

had deviated

from its course,

norm, and that it was happening

now (in November whose name

1974 - yes, I think it was here,

November)

... there was restlessness in the audience when he said that ... but
~n question, shall not be revealed

around him in the world, and especially in the world of

the professor-critic quickly added:

But do not worry, do not despair, soon the line will redress
self-satisfaction, sneered, and added slowly, detaching

just

declared

the

end of the printed

word.

The

itself and continue on its straight course. He paused, stroked his academic
beard, with obvious each syllable: That-is i-ne-vi-ta-ble, I suppose he could have added, Because

Structuralists

had announced

the death of the author. My late friend Structuralism published at Yale, with the controverstarted the

Jacques Ehrmann whole Postmodem

(who introduced

sial 1966 issues of Yale French Studies., and perhaps inadvertently mess in America)

It is Written Above, as it is said again and again (but with irony, of course) in
one of the great pre-postmodern novels of all times, Jacques le Faialiste, by Denis Diderot, A sigh of relief was heard and felt in the auditorium,

a

book

in Paris entitled

La

Mort de fa Lit/era/ure. Still in France; Les Nouveaux Romanciers and Les Nouveaux Nouveaux Romanciers of the Tel Que/ Group were caught in what
Nathalie Sarraute called in a collection of essays

by that title, L'ere du
Roto his stu-

And indeed, the straight line of narrative may have found the right and righteous path again. But something did happen, something changed. What are left
now are the traces of that strange and radical activity known Discourse, as Postmoditself

Soupoon (The Era oj Suspicion). Meanwhile,
nald Sukenick, them teaching at

back

in America. Professor was announcing

Cornell

University,

deots the death of the novel while writing atthe

same time a story entitled The

ernism, Traces of a discourse It is of this discourse,

(A Real Fictitious

I once caned it) To do this 1

Death oj the Novel, and in Buffalo, John Barth was finishing the first draft of his now famous essay, The Literature of Exhaustion, and trying to work Ills
way out of the labyrinthine other places (In the Heart Funhouse of the Heart of fiction. And many others of the Country) in many at about the same

which took shape during the past four decades and then deconstructed that I want to speak for a few moments.

shall tum to what I know best, my own real fictitious discourse.

56

57

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism

and After (pan One)

time were also lamenting (in speaking or in writing) the death of the novel, the death of the author, the end ofliterature, It was in this climate, conditions, confronting in the mid-sixties, self-doubt, advantage this funerary climate, all these apocalyptic surrounded by such negative predictions that the fiction writer, but especially

But let's take a more recent example of a work of fiction launched way:

by doubt

- that of Ronald Sukenick who begins his story, The Death of the Novel, this

considered

his task and began writing his new novel. Obvithe stubborn but clever writer, who faced at the which for a while, at least, Doubting capable

ously, his work could only be marked by doubt and distrust, which, however, by transforming same time the impossibility

and the necessity of writing, quickly turned to his it into self-reflexiveness,

The contemporary writer· the writer who is acutely in touch with the life of which he is part - is forced to start from scratch: Reality doesn't exist, time doesn't exist, personality doesn't exist, God was the omniscient author, but he died; now no one knows the plot, and since our reality lacks the sanction of a creator, there is no guarantee as to the authenticity of the received version.
the authenticity of the received version, whether

helped him survive so he could conti.nue to destroy the novel that he was in the process of writing It was by doubting history, society, politics, culture, as well as his own art, the historical discourse, the' political dismanaged to and so on, that the writer' somehow - philosophical, which of course also meant doubting course, the literary discourse, But then all great movements

factual or flcti-

tious, it was with a deep sense of doubt and suspicion in what fiction was still of doing, that the writer (Federman, in this case) set out to write itself by

Double Or Nothing on October
conquering Hassan's expression).

1st, 1966 - a novel which sustained

doubt on every page with typographical laughter (to use Ihab

do his work. That writer even went as far as doubting the reality of reality religious, political or artistic always begin with doubt. For instance: There is no novelty to me in the reflection that, from my earlier years, I have accepted many false opinions as true, and that what [ have concluded from such badly assured premises could not but be highly doubtful and uncertain. From the time that ] first recognized this fact, [ have realized that if I wished!to have any firm and constant knowledge [... .1 I would have to undertake, once and for an, to set aside all the opinions which I had previously accepted among: my beliefs and start again from the very beginning. In this case, however, Robert Coover's ued his meditation the writer did not shoot himself, as the writer in

But let me assure you, the Penman was not trying to
novel, or even an experimental novel, when he started

write a Postrnodern

Double Or Nothing, he was just trying to write a novel out of a personal: necessity, in the face of the impossibility of writing a novel Self-doubt, possible, writer/gambler even fear that the game might be too difficult, might even be imover the post modern an expression narrative. But the self-doubt of the became of the fiction's own doubt. The game, or a celebrapage by hovered

for it was a game, in effect, was not just a device, a definition, page, to get the story told despite the fierce self-doubt

lion, it was also a necessity - the means to inch the story forward; In the end, the story did get told (The Death of the Novel engendered was in fact the triumph of Postmodern along the way character, were transformed

that plagued the writer.

Other

story did, in order to be able to begin, but instead be contin-

Stories), and the telling that digressed from the telling or that cancelled itself
fiction .. The anxiety of the telling, at even though of fiction all in reaching least for the sustained moment of the book, had been overcome, or destroyed. The beginning had succeeded

Concerning Things That Can Be Doubted.
is not from a Postrnodern novel,but the opening Whom I now officially d.e-

What I have JUS! quoted clare a Postmodern writer.

lines of the; First Meditation of Rene Descartes.

plat, setting, and all the other conventions

58

S9

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism and After (part One)

ending, even by miscalculation And suddenly the Postmodem story was finished - ready to die, SCI that it could, however, be resurrected, in some other time and some other place. What the new story will be, I cannot tell, yet, but perhaps others' here will be able to tell us. Meanwhile, as the first and last Postmodern writer once put it: "I don't know why I told this story. I could just as wen have told another. Perhaps some other time I'll be able to tell another." [Samuel Beckett, of course]. Meanwhile, at the same time in some other places (we are back in the midsixties), others were also writing books with doubt in their minds, and even panic in their bodies, books which eventually were published under these revealingtitles: K,illing Time, Death Kit, The Ticket That Exploded; Unspeakable Practices Unnatural Acts, WiI#'e;Master's Lonesome Wife, Up Lunar Landscapes, Slaughterhouse Ftve, Quake, Nuclear Love, Mumho Jumbo, In Cold Blood, The Exaggerations of Peter Prince, Lost in the Funhouse, The
Crying of Lo149, The Last Gentleman ...

which quickly lodged itself i:nthe American consciousness. And it is that image, that sublimated image, especially when it appeared on television, which charmed and structured the American people. Kennedy presented himself through that image as the defender of a rational discourse which had finally triumphed over the irrational discourse which had led to Nazi and Fascist politics. and which was then openly shaping Communist ideology and action in Budapest in 1956, in Cuba in 1962, and in other parts of the world. In other words, the official image and message of the late 1950's and early 60's seemed good, honest, truthful, and tough. when necessary. Most novels of that period reflected a similar image and gave a similar message. 'Thus when Kennedy smiled it meant that he was happy, and America was happy. When he spoke in a grave tone of voice and announced that thecountry could be destroyed by an atomic blast coming from Cuba, the entire nation changed mood. There existed at the time an element of trust between the official discourse and the nation, just as there existed an element of trust on the part of the readers for the: fiction written at that time. That discourse presented itself as a personal friend. This is why the assassination of John F. Kennedy (public and televised at it were) had such a traumatic impact on the American consciousness - and followed. soon after, by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Suddenly things were not as good, not as friendly, not as truthful as theyappeared, Suddenly the American. people were doubting the very reality of the events they were witnessing, especially on television, It took certain blunders of the Johnson administration, and subsequently the manipulations and lies of the Nixon administration, and of course the Vietnam War, and the Watergate debacle to awaken America from its mass-media state of illusion and optimism. Suddenly there was a general distrust of the official discourse whether spoken. written or televised. For indeed, if the; content of history can be manipulated by mass-media, or by literature. if television and the press can falsity historical facts, then the unequivocalrelation between the real and the imaginary becomes blurred. ConsequentlY,history must not only be doubted, it

The titles of these works of fiction, all of them published between 1966 and 1968, are indicative of the anxiety inscribed in the texts. Looking back at these books (novels, collections of stories), all of them ultimately declared Postmodem, however different one from the other, they all seem to have been written with a deep sense of doubt and distrust· about where and when they were written, about themselves, and about what they were attempting to do. But what caused this anxiety, and led writers in the sixties to doubt their own work as well as the reality (especially ill America) in which that work was being created? The first sign of this doubt, this rupture rather, for it was a rupture, appeared around 1960, From the end of World War II to the election of'John E Kennedy, there was in America a kind of unequivocal relation between individual desires and the mechanism through which the country expressed itself. By the time President Kennedy took office, America was ready to receive the kind of electronic and electrifying image he projected through mass-media and 60

6]

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism and After (part One)

must be re-examined, re~v.iewed, especially recent historical events as pre~ sented, or rather as represented to us by mass-media and literature. By the end of the Watergate crisis, all the official versions dealing with World War n, the Cold War, the McCarthy era, the Korean War (which was never called a war), the C.I.A. activities in various parts of the world, the Vietnam War of course, and so on, had been doubted, questioned, cballenged, revised, not only in political writing, not only in the New Journalism which emerged as a new mode of writing in the sixties as a result of the blurring of fact and fiction, but also in works of fiction which established a new relation' with reality and history, a relation based on doubt and suspicion. Doubt is indeed the tern that best explains and defines Postmodern fiction. Founded on doubt and perpetuating itself with doubt, Postrnodernism not only doubted itself; but it also doubted the historical and cultural conditions in which it was created. The results were fascinating, though often irritating to many. For it is true that in the past thirty years or so, literature went through a time of radical disturbances that totally overturned the institution and its primary values. In a world where the referential element itself was denounced as a mystify~ ing electronic image, the old question of historical (and literal)') truth and credibility, as well as the question of the stability of the real, were no longer valid. These became impossible questions. Because the historical and the literary discourses were falsified by their own language, all referential coherence became irrelevant and even derisive, The institution of literature never recovered. The :repeated announcements of the death of literature during the sixties, and the way Postmodernism went about demonstrating that death, during the next two decades, led our friend and colleague Leslie Fiedler, the great advocate of pop-lit who was delighted to see high-brow literature go under, to write, in the eighties, a book entitled What Was Literature.

And it is true that internally, the traditional romantic and modernist literary values were completely reversed during the Postmodem era. The author, whose creative imagination was said to be the source of literature, was dedared dead or the mere assembler of various bits oflanguage and culture into writings that were no longer works of art but simply cultural collages or texts. As a result Postmodern literature could no longer produce original works of art. (masterpieces), nor could it have great artists (masters), it. could only produce works which resembled one another, and writers who mostly jmitated each other's work. In fact, many authors themselves shamelessly admitted to being mere plagiarizers. The great historical tradition extending from Homer to the present was broken up in discontinuous fragments. The influence of earlier writers on their successors was declared no longer beneficial but the source of anxiety and weakness. Certain Postmodern writers even went as far as claiming to have influenced their predecessors. It was even said that Don' Quixote could not have been written without theinfluence of Post modernism, The literary canon was analyzed, debated, and eventually dismantled, while literary history itself was discarded as a diachronic illusion, to be replaced by a synchronic paradigm. Masterpieces of literature were now void of meaning, or, what comes to the same thing, filled with an excess of meaning, their language indeterminate, contradictory, without ally foundation, their organization, structures, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, mere vernal performances, Whatever meaning these masterpieces may have had was simply provisional and conferred on them by the reader, not inherent in the text or set in place for all time by the writer's craft. Rather than being near-sacred myths of human experience of the world and the self, the most prized possessions of culture, universal statements about an unchanging and essential human nature, literature was increasingly treated as authoritarian and destructive of human freedom, the ideology of patriarchy devised to serve white male supremacy over the female and lesser breeds. Criticism, which was once the scorned servant of literature, declared its independence and insisted that it too was literature.

62

63

Raymond Federman

Of course, not everyone accepted now that these transformations opposed

these new views - twisted views as they

William Gass

were called - but gradually they became the reality of the moment

It is clear
Those

were the results of what happened when (once displaced Modernism.

upon a time, not too long ago) Pcstmodemism to Pos.tmodemism

Stuttgart lecture One: Space

called that situation a crisis. For instance, George

Steiner (in Real Presences, 1989), describes the crisis of West em intellectual
life of the past three decades or so as being fully inhabited by what he calls "the nostalgia, pathos, and failure of consolation That crisis, Steiner argues, is the unprecedented cund confrontation that constitutes transformation modernity itI begin with
II sentence

from Wittgenstein,

which [like because every word

self" (but of course, 'by modernity he really means postmodernity).
of "the feof intelligence 'With the facticity of death, a faeticity wholly

in it has a technical meaning in the philosophy of logic while, at the same time, in its English translation, every word is ordinary, and carries a different sense; so that it ways something extraordinary

a's well.

resistant to reason, to metaphor, to revelatory representation," For Steiner (and others who think like him) aesthetic forms are inhabited by transcendental ticulations "A point in space is a place for an argument"

values - values that refer beyond the time and place oftheir

ar-

- and the crisis of the Postmodern

time is the failure to discem an values of

As I

was walking in the garden yesterday, .. well, I was lurking

in the

garden

intelligible order within temporal human existence. 1111 an age of the instantaneous, such as the Postmodem age, the possibility of transcendental

if the truth be told, "deep in the dusk of the eve", one poet has problematically
put it., I saw the gardener Madame Tout-Savoy. of the garden kissing the - let us say - hand of astonishing in this, I thought, the Madame's loving Nothing

seems to Steiner to be i:rrevocably lost. In such an age, the "acceptance ephemerality and self-dissolution
incomprehension," Depending on wroch side of Postmodemisrn

embodies the underlying nihilistic findings of one stands, and how one feels

hand is always out. While I lurked and watched the kissing continue, hand to mouth, according

to the cliche, there could be heard a rustling in the recovered her - shall we say? - hand, and both

berry bushes, I heard. it, certainly; they heard it, for the lovers drew guiltily apart, and Madame Tout-Savoy beat a hasty ret-reat, beat it unmercifully till the drum ached from all the meta-

about the intellectual

situation of the past three decades or so, one can inter-

pret Steiner's views either negatively or positively.
For myself, being an incurable optimist, I will simply conclude Part One of

phorical noise.
I had lurked my way into a likely story, an old familiar story. What are gardens for if not for assignations? What are gardeners for if not to cultivate as suitable

this presentation

by stating that even though some people might say tbat those who lIay that.
bel'

the Postmodern situation was Dot very ,encouragililg one must reply that it was not meant to encourage

why not put it? - the flowers. the bushes and their berries; the succulents and
ferns, a sleezy moss or two to make a flagstone slippery? However, all thi-s to the scene as the locale was, I felt it incumbent upon me to tattle to the

[I cannotremem

in wrote

or if I read. it somewhere)

Count and tell him, let's pretend - truthfully of this occasion, when, with a low

64

William Gass

Stuttgart lecture One: Space

slow moon creeping

as I was over the garden's

weedy

grass, the aspens

shivering slightly in the light rhyme of the wind, one could hear, I heard (it is probable they did not hear) the rustle of skirtfall, exciting my - every - amorous heart, and the soft smicksrnack, too, of - better say - kisses, which confinned the feeling, their sound sneaking cleverly to me through tbe brambles

is my wine," - even as I, then no doubt you, put their passion into an anecdote,
even as the commonest cliches of fondle and feeling fell upon them like poop even as". They would no doubt. have sworn straight that their from the darting; swifts, even as,

they were unique as her knickers. worn as they had been for thirty days; they would have been convinced squish of particularity, was but a garden, though

of the berry bushes where I, in luck, lurked.
How evanescent, how transistory, how fleeting, how touchingly terminal this and hungry exchanges of as if - okay - this lovey-dovey time was. Timid first kisses like almost mist upon the

lips

met in

a

triumphant

that they were lovers not candlesticks;
II!

that: this garden

garden like no other, and that the space they oc-

cupied and the distance between them - lessening it between the contours

as

though ironed - was as

- all right - cheek, the mutual mouth washings

palpable and persistent and physically there betwixt them before they squeezed of their several swellings, as palpable as any post erection shall we say? - any wretch's

breath, the twining arms, the fondly feverish feelingabout of fingertips, own eyes were staring through cheek incriminatingly the berries, the brambles

each were lit and shining through placket holes and button slits the way my and the dusk, my give us, scratched, damn, but not for the first time. Yes, so brief

and

that they were, lady and lover,

Madame Hoi-Polloi and her loyal planter of seeds when seeds were in season;
that they were persons, souls, selves on fire; that they were anything but signs. Alas for them (his towel and her garters, his thick accent and her slumbering sex), there is/was nothing in their passion, ill their dress or undress. in their method of osculation,

this delight, so swiftly past, so soon gone is the glow our hormones

such and so "so" is the tedious flow of every present moment to its dismal
finish in another "once upon a time." Once upon a time ... before the alert was inadvertently, accidentally, unintentionally sounded and, the fond pair parted

in the roses putting their perfume out into the night, in
or the presence of their peeper, which hasn't a place, You

the way the stones are/were laid in the garden, in the choice of plants, in the brambles, my scratches, and a prominent place, in cultural and social space. And if we tell their story itself a. genre - we are already leaning one set of signs against another.

like wet paper and made tracks like a speeding train.
And how like that moment is the low slow flow of my voice now, making these words which disappear Gloaming,

as

did the guilty pair quickly into the gloaming. harmony to exist between what I call the warming

shall we say? though it is. morning. How natural for all of us to in which I called it so: I lurkily watching,

and I walk out into each morning no less ful! of messages than the bearer of a
sandwich board. Our race, our language, our smile, the limp we've affected, the loud laugh we llse to break up conversations, significant: each and all and everyone insinuate the time of morning we have assert or
OIL

imagine an, at least, serendipital kissing and the account

myself at their fire, and you, now; listening. even as I listened to the bowing of their bodies. as if they were fiddle and fiddler, turn and tum about, until the cause occurred vignette, which moved the story another step - gave it that excuse for in a another sip which we like to think is narrative - as if they were preachers much by time as by their own fleeing feet. Even as their lips re-enacted a symbol of acceptance the old rite - an action whose very sensuality is - "your foodhole is my spoonful of bliss," "your saliva

risen, the stairs we have limped down - if indeed there are stairs, for that too is suggest or hint at something,
or argue

shout something,

or blandish or wheedle

or insist

something .. And it is this that the eye of the novelist notices; and it is this he is after, when be composes at the same time. his descriptions; for to live in a culture is to live in a space of signs, to have a station and recognize its duties, to read and be read

making a moral point, parted by a furtive step. yet carried away as

66

67

wmiamGass

Stuttgart lecture One: Space

That nature which is truly inhuman, which is as bleak and black as outer space, which is pure wilderness, that nature is meaningless to man, terrifYing, absurd, until its qualities can be lured into the precincts of the human, until it, or its pieces, can be assigned a position in a, system, until it can be madle to bear meaning and so its relation to others in what we call the rea! world - shill we? - namely the world of the social sign, And here the writer awaits it, ready to replace objects and actions' with language, to elevate this low-grade signal system into one richer and racier and more resilient. And the word "rose" is pressed more prettily than any petal between the pages which comprise another space, or rather spaces - the fields of relation we call - isn't it ok to? literary language, Social speech awaits its raconteur. I knew this from birth, for was I not from that squalling hour, that first square on the calendar, where my appointments are noted - "Be born, S a.m." " was I not from my first bellow a novelist, a rattler, a tattletale? The pale space of my letter paper expected me, a sign itself of the void, of Plato's great Receptacle" where that creation to be named the World of Becoming would be shaped. That snowy field of possibilities, that isle of etymology, that, in this case, shall we say? England, oL.? what? .. .enterprise and betterment. My little letter to poor Haut-Savoy which would destroy his marriage and his sang-froid with the same syllables "Sir, I have seen your wife, ..' I shall render an account in order that there shall be an eventual accounting; and what happens in life simultaneously - lip laid against lip, thigh side to side, fingertip to nip - shall be stretched out by my language, such are the material necessities ofit, in neat rectangularly stacked rows, since I have a penmanship, long admired in calligraphic circles, letter after letter like stalks of corn, covering the field of my stationery, through which my meanings will both stalk and hide themselves: there to harvest a happiness. And properties which were never actions - the lash of Madame Tout-Savoy's eyes, for instance, which 1 must admit, do admirably bat, the gnarl of the gardener's hands which excited Madame's lust with their rough promise yet cultivational skills - will be put in the same line as all the other elements, suggest-

ing order and action simultaneously, direction and cause, as if the whole affair might have a beginning, middle, and, of course, an end now that my letter is a significant player, an end which will be another beginning. The space ofmy missive will thus come to serve as the space of the garden itself: as well as the reach of my account right up to the creamy paper's edge like the high wall in whose crannies the pooping swifts have built their nest. But there are many different spaces in the space of this garden, where our lovers have met just beyond the Baroque fountain; a fountain which, until this moment you. did not know was there, badly damaged by a previous calamity, and whose tinkle cannot therefore enter into the composition of their guilty congress, although it has now entered anyway, by virtue of my mention of its absence. Can you not almost physically feel me leave the path of my exposition, with its simple start which aims at some equally simple finish, to. toy with the memory of another ribald story, to fetch from the stage of my memory's theater the figure of bold Betsy from Pike, who liked to splash her bare arms and rinse her bare hands a bit in the former streams of the garden's once functioning fountain? I would watch her, too, though not from the thicket of the bramble bushes, but from the lower limbs, yet well concealed by leaves. of the young scarlet oak in the garden's third comer, a refuge since cut down on account of my practice of hiding myself therein at dawn, when young Betsy 'Would hike her, let us say, silkens out of the reach of the wet. Where are we? In another part of the forest, lost from our sheep, but not from our point. As my eyes roved like silent flies over the amorous pair, to whom we have finally returned, although they weren't even there to come back to when their words weren't at work, their names and parts weren't invoked, and they weren't in the position of fallen fruit my eyes might light on, seeking the exposed sugar of their posture, as they are now, however, where I have bent.them against one another like bow around
,II

handbox; or, ifI choose

(and I choose, you do not, any more than they choose, or have a thing to say about it), to compare them to a pair of sighing kettles asteam on the same primal stove. Well, as my eyes darted toward this or that obscene 'exposure, I

68

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William Gass

Stuttgart lecture One: Space

was in a space of feeling, quite stewy in the mix of its measures: excitement, escape route, which was not the same as theirs, suppressing stressing others. investing the area with its
OWI!l

anxiety.

son, and that beautiful people must be kind. I am only an til", but what an til" I am, in my realm of the naively real. Yet some of us are factual to a fault, andsee om lovers, as Huxley did,

wariness, fear - shortening my distance to them, lengthening my
some objects, win so that even the leaves of

quietly sweating palm to palm. And I am no numerical numbskull, either, and
have gone to school with compass and ruler in my pencil box. I believe in the reality of neither percept nor passion, but measure the miles to the mountains, map the path of my retreat, meter the light a's it passes out of existence, thermalize the flush which has. overtaken these two skins ~ shall we admit? • like a rapid rash. Perhaps this ivy my nervous knees are crushing is poisoning me, and I am acrawl with acidJulous oils. I must recollect myself or re-collect myself, trom the world phallus endowment. So far we have found three spaces hiding in the one space of the garden where I lurked, but there are several others Animistic space is alive and is acand as obtive as a squirrel. Realistic space is largely confined to the innocent eye and made of plain boundaries and clear blocks. Euclidean, instrumental jective as the system of its calibration. However, the spac-e of the classical rationalist - who has no business lurking behind any bushes, but nevertheless infinite, everywhere the same. It is titeraUy Nothing but pure extension, the space of the classical rationalist is absolute, more so than any tyrant. It is and never itself a cause, so that as I crouch in my bushy bower, hoping to see the of primitive responses like tumescences and other swellings, and advance upon the Playboy magazine's realm of bustsize and

my shelter seemed to be participating in the ceremony, concealing me, the private-eye, as I eyed their nether parts and listened to their heaved sighs. In this emotional and animistic arena., space is elastic. Every motel space is indeed the same space, denying tra.vel to the traveller. Though you drove from Terre Haute to Columbus you remained in the same inn whose same. bland walls held the same bad art above the same blond bed. King Arthur's sword was thrown in the middle of every misty little lake. Every place we may imagine the Universe originated is one and the same place, There is
110

simple

location, no fixity. Space is as slippery as the serpent - that's me, in the tree. We all live, at least somewhat, in an animistic world, when the next twig to scratch your face will meanly mean to, and where we strike at the objects which our anger has animated, kicking the rock on which we,'ve stubbed our toe, thus measuring the world by means of out emotions, If lonely, we perceive our irrelevance to our surroundings. If in the mood of the peeper, we feel watched while we watcb. Perhaps the pooping swifts, the blown tulips - past a. prime they never enjoyed - or the pale glint ofan exposed slip or nail shine from Madame's mani.cured fingertips, will discover me hunkered among the thornies. It is the cartoon world indeed, where trees clutch at me, and stains become faces, where time delays its passing when I want it to be Christmas morning, and accelerates as the brink of death appears, this world of primiitive passions and mana empowered environments. Normally, I manage to keep my wits and observe the world simply as it is given to me, much as if I were the legendary simpleton on the way to the Fair, so that in this mode the distant mountains are as near as they say to my eyes

no doubt bushy bower of Madame Tout Ie Mende, I recognize in the night air
a bearer of breezes and rustle-bound the police. Next, tbat part of me which has reached our recent level of sophistication - that part is acquainted -a small part to be sure, a patch the size of the place between kneecap and elbow with the marriage of space and time, fairly recently that Space, as celebrated. It disdains the idea of an absolute, infinitely expansive Nothingstuff where forms recline like ladies in a seraglio. It recognizes sounds, but the space they flow through I consider to be quite neutral, quite uniformly empty and in no way an agent of

they are, and I am warm when [ feel warm, and I believe what I read ill the
papers, and believe a frank and candid face bespeaks a frank and candid per-

70

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WiUiamGass

Stuttgart leenee One: Space

Leibniz so wonderfully foretold, is to be properly defined and correctly understood only in terms of the number of terms necessary to determine its locations: two bits ofinfo suffice for a Flatland, one mote to complete the space designed by Euclid and his Renaissance apes, another (in this case; Time), for Einstein's Sunday Supplement surprise. It follows from Leibniz;s definition that spaces may have as many dimensions as their addresses demand different sorts of data: hight, width. depth, date, weight, warmth, whatever. That is, when I sulked in those bushes, if I were in a true skulker's garden, my location, as well as every other point of reference, might have been determined by the three lengths and breadths and depths of ordinary life, plus the correct o'clock, one's body temperature- quite feverish although the evening. drew cool. air from a well - and the bad news of one's cholesterol count. We are not finished with our enumeration of spaces. Those who remember the classiflcation, which Gaston Bachelard has drawn up, will know there are yet more kinds. If animism is supplanted by Realism,and Realism by Positivism, and it'Positivism is, in tum, replaced by rationalism, and rationalism by its Complex version, which blends absolute space and time into a single interdependent continuum,then Surrationalism, the last stage we have reached, will be the dialectical inversion of its forerunner, even though each preceeding stage. still hangs heavy in us, like the phases of our bodily growth do; genetically directed. In. Surrationalism Durac's equations rule the cosmic waves, and black holes pull their weight around, I hate to spoil this week long list of spaces with the reminder of that cultural space which started it, or the space of my memories, collected in the aumber though not in the manner of Proust's, or of those other times and. other spaces where I hid and spied and wrote my Rote of condolence to the cuckold, causing in some cases duels, in other cases dual do-ins, lady and lover together or one after another. How trenchant the moon's light was one time, lemon juicing the tree's leaves. How momentary the throb of whatever throbs in such situations, too, as I said before. Time, if you wish to invoke it, whirls all away to Doomsville, and so on. Or to the local museum where Madame
72

Tout-le Tout's bustle hangs, or to the attic where, in a slow mist of dust, the letter endures, bundled with a bunch of bills the Count's estate couldn't pay. But now let us look at that little note, the account I sent to the Count of this occurrence, including the first faint awareness of their mutual attraction: he cutting, she carrying the cuttings, he yanking from the ground. she bearing a basket full of the yankings, he collecting, she collecting his collection ~ roses, carrots, beans, weeds ~ and blushing to their different roots, as though the roses grew like beets. Does that make sense? None, the plants in the garden - none at all ~ none of the flags in the walk or stones in the wall - none at all ~ 110ne of the spores and pollens in the breeze, or low light on the (awn • no, none at all ~ none of their gestures, thoughts. feelings, tools, purses, aprons, shawls, none of their histories, nor any of those several possible scientific spaces (ideas of space presumably, which we presume were lived in during this brief menagerie a trois) ~ none at all ~ not even the labels on Madame Demopense's lingerie; mottoed allover with boasts and promises ~ nothing of it, none of them, is present in my account, which was written, naturally, in words, what else? and has its own purposes, passions, redolent sensualities, its own concepts, referents and fervid imaginings; mot with which it intends to replace or render the affair aforesaid, but to surpass it, though 'entering into the action of course as a cause (Madame's murder, the Count's suicide, the bankrupcy of the estate, the decay of the garden's walls, the wounded. gardener's flight) all of which follow upon the writing, the reading, the comprehending, of the letter), but accomplishing something more" something quite marvellous; since what had Madame MaupasS<l!1!t done with her lover (even if a pile of particularities defined their persons as they claimed), but tediously reenact the most commonplace and comical cliche? which, if not a universal, was yet a bit of business as ubiquitous as bees, blooms and other bugs; while what: I did, when I wrote my note, was to play with concepts and thereby transform their sordid gropings - so like 'every other ~ in such a way, and in such a form, their story rivals that of what's-his-name and Beatrice in interest, in concreteness, in instruction, and in tne very real uniqueness the lou!'iYlovers

of

73

William Gass

Stuttgart lecture One: Space

hiked to claim but couldn't. since, when buttons and clasps and frilly leggings
got in the way, they got in the way in the same old way they always get in the way, To accomplish my account, I had to place them in the realm of names; I bad to put the jerky movements passions, thoughts. of their bodies in my fine linguistic space, and their desires and their perceptions, their their desires and their perceptions,

writing,

Neither

worldly wisdom,

nor emotional

stability, nor firmness of fidel-

character, nor perfection of carriage, not even intensity of commitment,

ity to God or Nation, wilJ grant her the gift. These spaces for the depiction of relations, the material or physical space of the writing, or the sound of a line, the full use of the blankness, which begins as a page and ends as an entity, the consonants the voice chews over, the vowels it swallows after a good rinse around in. the mouth, syllables hard as Beckett's famous sucking stones: these conditions and capacities make for the author's only palpability, her sole sensuality, and lead to the realization that the music she makes is the metaphorical body of her meaning. Yes. The sound of the sentence is the body of its sense, When Joseph Frank; some years ago - decades now - wrote an essay about spatial form in modem fiction (an essay which many took to be theory's trumpet to announce principally

beliefs, their imaginings and dreams, as well as those of put it in

the peeper - all • 'in the slow, low reach and paddle of my line-by-line;

the space of my letter, through the use of marks and meters, meanings and forms, none of which resemble. imitate or mimic, in the slightest, this little arbor-crowded garden, the lady's maybe bared bosom, the gardeners callous mud encrusted thumbs - no - not in any way whatever, Were this simple-sounding for commentary needed a garden fact even simply understood, most of what passes The lovers the
COIl-

in our literature, and our literary community, would not be where palm might sweat upon palm, where

Postmodernism), he was concerned to apply his analysis
novel Nightweod. He cites other And the

committed - a consequence, it gives one pleasure to contemplate. summation

to Djuna Barnes' remarkable

writers, to be sure, but it is Djuna Barnes on whom he concentrates. nection, is what he finds to be, in her book, a pronounced

of their relation could be related. to begin with. Our language

thing which strikes, him, and causes him to speak of spatial form in her conresistance to continuing, In Nightwood nothing appears to happen except the scrolling on of language. Barnes makes no effort to conform. to or encourage the illusion of linearity. Another novel which displays a similar disinclination is Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. I have composed a few examples in order to heighten
OUf

needs such spaces, too, where, as in the past, the word "palm" will be placed in a perfect pattern of alliteration to produce the quotation. Even time itself is thought of - when it's thought of rather than lived through - as a line; perhaps with a cute lit~1e arrow on its end, or as a line with a smooth and continuous bend, which will one day tum back upon itself, or as a field where over endless ages every arrangement possible to history will be played, again and

sense of this re-

again, eternally, without remission.
In short, we cannot relate without a receptacle which will contain, spread out and make manifest, these relations, We cannot connect or think of connection, we cannot form or consider forms, without a space where they may be traced. And. there are, you may not be surprised to hear, at least six. such spaces which the artist mu.st learn to work in, and whose understanding and deft management, the world and translate its signs into language, constitutes exploration, in. addition to her ability readily to read the real act of

calcitrance (in fact, the way I've said what I've bad to say, its asides, its grimacing artificiality, and so on, are already an instance). Frank is thinking about the "what happens next" phenomenon. Nowadays, with our continuous nalized. violence, the quick cut, the sensationalism the phenomenon exterwe seek. and all the rest,

has become our cultural climate. But what about the text

which remains in one place and merely hops up and down?

] am crossing a lawn when I see him pop out ofhis hole Like that Jack-inthe-box we played with when we were kids, covered with colors like a dis-

74

75

William Gass

Stuttgartlecture One: Space

mantled rainbow, the sort of scrappytatter construction my sister loved - remember? She would stick pieces of cloth to about anything. WeU, I'm crossing the lawn when this mole pops out of his hole, and] could see he was crazed. maybe rabid like the bats they found recently in Mammoth Cave, each of whom was frothing at the mouth five ways, so you could tell they were mad five ways as well; wen, I was just crossing the lawn when this moIe pokes out and looks around, and you could see he was looking for a womanly sort of mole, sure as shooting, he had been to the Fair and to New York, and he was damned if he was going to spend his life in the subway; so I am crossing the lawn, like I said, when this creature features itself in my film, and without the customary audition, I might add - after all, would you give a star part. to .any goddamn mole that showed up? - no, I know you, you wouldn't give a star to a naked nipple, why your mother told me how you'd stick all those stars you got for good behaviour on your left butt ~ scarcely nice, though the johns I imagine liked to look at the moons you showed them, because they'll take anything that has "yes" in it for an answer, since in that moonqueen part of your Mother Nature you resemble my crazy cousin Jake who, I remember, was crossing his lawn one summer afternoon when a mole popped through the sad like a thumb through a pie and he damn near stubbed his toe clean through those L.lL..Bean. boots of his, boots that bad nails on their toes like candles in a pirate's beard; Wen, that very boot was crossing the lawn, indenting the soft turfbecause there'd been a rain, when? recently, and hard, because the rain was in a hurry to hit the ground! and get on with the next act, which was seepage, after which it plays a bit of water table before drainage comes along, and the Anna Livia part takes over. So what happens next? The "what happens next" phenomenon belongs to an early and relatively primitive, not to say infantile level of esthetic development, because the person who is waiting for what's next is not attending, to what's now, and probably won't attend to what's now when what's next arrives like his aunt for a visit. Nevertheless; events happen, and events do follow one another, higgle-

dy-piggledy, and we call the space tbey muck up that way, linear, narrative, or plot space .. The second kind of space I want to mention concerns the materiality of language I emphasized earlier -its orality - and the fact that reel literature emerges from the mouth, and because it emerges from the mouth, and is reperformed in the head as a head held voice, it has a source and therefore a soul responsible for its very formation; whereas, when written, and unless signed or handmade, it can be, as Plato perceived in the Phaedrus, used and performed by others, people who put other people's words in their mouths, and utter them as if owned, quote them as if proud. steal them as if'free. Spoken words have an order, however, they are not simply sounds. Endings, and other alterations, indicate verbal type and modification as well. So that thiissecond space (which, when the words are Mitten, leall inscriptional, and, when they are uttered, performative), is concerned with syntax as well. This space, die space of verbal making" is actually several spaces: it is musical splice, the arena of the score or the received sound; it is the space of the band and mouth which must move to make the music or write down its notes, and if you ignore the way the muscles must act, or how, through the teeth or along the jaw, the ,syllables get their shape, you will miss the chewy, the spat, the hissed, the popped, the exhaled aspect of meaning; but it is also the space of the grammar of the language, which all those diagrams we were taught are designed to reveal; and then, beneath that, there is the syntactical space Chomsky's researches have revealed, or what is sometimes called "transformational grammar"; while finally, there is logical space, still different, still significant, ignored at the poet's peril. A sentence like "Life is solitary, nasty. brutish and short," would be rendered, by the logician (and I only follow the abstractness of their symbolism part way): "For all X, if X is a life, then X :issolitary, and, Xis nasty, and, Xis brutish, and, X is short" Where has the excitement of the line gone? You can reduce, as Aristotle discovered, all the propositions of Greek and/or English, andlor whatel:se? to four basic kinds, and it became necessary for the logician

76

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William Gass

Stuttgart lecture One' Space

to find, for every ordinary sentence, its logical expression, wouldn't compute.
A Type: All Sis P.

Otherwise they

system is called "Venn. Diagrams. ")t Such overlaps reveal how the shape oftb.e sentence unifies it, combining its various meanings. into one thought, as our schoolteachers always taught us. The sentence is unified by conceiving every element as a box or a relation between boxes. When all the classes, designated by the words of the sentence (The class of solitary dungs, nasty things, etc.)

E Type: No S IS P.

o Type:

I Type: Some S is P

Some S is not P.

can be found inside the subject class (life), then the sentence is itself fully
fonned!. It would be a mistake to suppose that, since logical analysis is "deeper" and more abstract, that it is therefore more fundamental and supplants the other

This reveals the subject ..predicate basis for the language, and this mode of expression stands at the heart of grammatical form. The grammatical form of some expressions, however, hides their "true" or underlying nature .. For instance, the. pseudo argument: I have a pain in my foot My foot is in my shoo

structures. It is essential to the meaning of an argument which concludes that
mypain is in my shoe, that the ambiguity of "in" not be spelled out on the in more than one space (the surface, but left at the bottom of the pie like a graham cracker crust. Not only was the skulker In the gardenskulking various sorts distinguished by Gaston Bachelard in his immensely imaginative

Grammar might follow that lead. Syntactical analysis would show, however, the difference in structure between one "in'; and another, Logical analysis, for
its part, would render an A Type proposition as a hypothetical, another aspect of the subject-predicate revealing yet mode which neither grammar nor syn-

book, The Philosophy oj No), but when we put that skulker into language,

when we name him and in that way nail. him to his tree, we place him in still more spaces: in perforrnative and inscriptional ones.
Forming is the artist's task, and to form is to relate, to form well is

to relate

tax can handle:
for all X, if X is a S, then. X is a P. Their content. Sentences are functions whose variables are replaced by con-

intimately and significantly. The mind cannot conceive of relations except in

some field of spacialization, If Time is linear, History is an unrolling tapestry.
Whether it is music the mind imagines, or a perspective the painter creates; whether it is the sense' of theplace trance of an actor
011

in the hierarchies of society, or the enof a

one side of the stage; whether it is the architecture

stants of one kind or other: (x) Sex) implies P(x). Hobbes' line contains four
sentences of the same form and a common function .. The place designated by the. parens () is that point in space referred! to ill my quote from Wittgenst.ein: it is a place for what logicians call "the argument of the function," namely a particular substitution, say "solitary." Every function can be represented by a circle (a space), and groups of functions in the same sentence can be depicted by overlapping these circles. (The

book or the space beneath a dome; whether we walk of feel or perceive or skulk or write or reason, we must dow in some space: perhaps that wooden "0" which we shall imagine contains: the vast fields of France, and the very casques which did affright the air at Agincourt,

78

79

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)
1.
It often seems to me that Postmodernism is a phenomenon that happens in the United States and is studied. in Europe - rather as it seems to me that the campus novel (with which I have been associated) is a genre that is nowadays written in Britain and studied in Germany. Certainly literary postmodernism is

a manifestation that has been widely studied, analyzed, and debated in the
European context, and very often the focus for these discussions has been recent American literature. Programmes and seminars, conferences and anthologies, have been devoted to the topic, and among the participants have been those who ate so impressively gathered here for this Stuttgart seminar. So, in this university and that, In Germany, in France, in Italy, in Britain, we have met, From the late t 960s onward, to discuss one aspect or another of a major phenomenon that, in sheer weight of debate and critical and philosophical analysis, has taken up as much attention as the phenomenon that, more or less

by definition, we can assume to have preceded it - in other words, Modernism.
Now, as I listen to John Barth's lecture, and recall some of his earlier

appearances and publications, I am aware of the long and interesting cycle of this debate, which has gone from exhaustion to replenishment, and the relation
of that debate to the search for a serious and considered tradition of late

twentieth century writing. Listening to Ihab Hassan, I am reminded of the
complex interpretation, the extensive elaboration, of a body of thoughtful theory that has taken us from a literature of silence to a new era of pragmatic

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodcmism,

the Novel, and the TV Medium (I)

adventure.

Listening to William Gass, I am again aware of the philosophical avant-gardeism that has also made it flourish. of those other

writers are strongly influenced by Americans. But it still plain when you read a British novel that it is not American, that italhides to a different tradition, or a different America triangulation of common traditions. The British writer when when in or is likely to consider him/herself European, in France

power and intensity of the discussion, and hearing Ray Federman I am struck by the teasing Europeanized contrapuntial, Listening to all of them, J am also aware that what I have to say is probably and possibly adversarial, to the commentary speakers. Thi s comes not from any sense of dissent - I regard myself as a critic as someone shaped in much the same world as Gass and Hassan, and as a writer someone alert to the same forces and metatextual interests as Barth and Federman. But for reasons of nationality, subjective literary tradition and thematic preoccupation,
trunk this

Germany to consider himself Anglo-American. In the age of multi-culturalism and also in a time that prefers regionalism or indeed tribalism to nationalism, these matters have grown more complicated, but i.t still remains true that British fiction holds on to a certain tradition of its own, though, as is true in the past, that tradition crosses over with and is influenced by other powerful traditions. At the end of the nineteenth century most novelists who took themselves seriously, and some who did not, looked to France as the source of fiction, to Flaubert, to Zola, or Huysmans. In the 1920s most British writers were either non-British figures who had moved to Britain, or Britons who, like Lawrence or Ford, had exiled themselves abroad. Today, if you look at "greedy" writers like John Fowles or Antonia Byatt, Salman Rushdie or Kama Ishiguro, writers who are self-consciously their relation to other traditions, aware of then what you sense is an international

I also feel my work as a writer and indeed as a critic

has positioned me in a somewhat detached, if not a separate, position, And I

will come out in the lectures and discussions that follow.

To make this plainer: I doubt if I am a postmodern writer, in the sense that

my four companions are postmodem writers. I may write within what we now
call the Postmodem temporary Condition. I. undoubtedly share a good deal of the same of conMy novels have intellectual history, and a similar sense of the important antecedents writing; I b~ve written and social arguments, widely on Modernism. been touched philosophical and shaped by the self-reflexive

spirit of the times, by the

tradition over which is laid a distinctive British imprint. That is as true of the work ofa writer like Rushdie, whose Midnight'S' Children owes as much to Gabriel Garcia Marquez as he does to Laurence Sterne, as much to the Indian tradition of oral storytelling as to a British tradition of high literariness, as it is of John Fowles, whose long novel The French Lieutenant's Woman is quite plainly a commentary on the place of a late twentieth century British writer under French influence in relation to a key tradition of Victorian fiction . .Perhaps ] can illustrate this in my own case by referring to an event that actually happened to me and which, [ike any novelist, I have cannibalized for my next novel Doctor Criminale. Last November I happened, as I often am, to be on my way to yet another American Studies conference, Leopoldskron held at the Schloss of I in Salzburg, this one a meeting of the Austrian Association

by the same social and technological The British are these days the Channel

forces. I am also an English rather-than an American novelist, and these days Englishness is a somewhat Europeans, imperfect peculiar commodity. Europeans; we have nearly completed

Tunnel, and one day we may even find out more about what lies on the other side of it. But in imagination the British do remain British, in the sense of having a distinctive tradition which lies in ambiguous relation to the European, which, of course, they have never really ignored, but have frequently disputed. One reason for this is their alternative membership Britain and perhaps to a lesser degree in contemporary relationship" of a distinctive worldlinguistic community of English, and another is the very strong sense, felt in America, of a "special with the United States. There was a time when American writers

American Studies, where, of course, we would all discuss postmodemism. flew to Vienna, got the train to Salzburg, and looked round the neat compart-

were strongly influenced by British ones; there is now a time when British

8'2

83

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodemism,

the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)

ment. There: on the table was a small Austrian tabloid newspaper, left for my convenience, and I picked it up. I don't really

the Kurier, except

deep

sense

of change

that belongs

to us all as in a time of historical.

read

German, and

unravelling

we face the end of a millennium,

all of these things are epochal.

late at night or after drink, but I looked

at the headline,

it

said "Die

We speak ·of"the End of History;" though a different phase in history strongly
afflicted by the problems of the past is just beginning; we speak of the Coming of the New World order, though the New World order has a curious way of transforming itself into a parody of the crises of the old Wodd order as they a stylistic, life of late existed 75 or 100 years ago. If Postmodernism roughly designates

Eieerne Lady gibt auf Eine Ara ist zu Ende."

As a resident

of Thatcherite

Britain for the previous thirteen years, I knew exactly what an Iron Lady was;

but what bad happened?
photographs Thatcherismus" over; the Iron that some

Scanning the page, Lrealized epochal change had

from the headlines and occurred. "Der through

plainly

(a. term that sounds much better in German

than

English) was The date of

cuttural and intellectual epoch that we also call Postwar; then I think it is over. If it designates,
capitalism, as critics like Fredric Jameson argue, the cultural its triumph and then its crisis may be just beginning,

Lady

bad gibt auf But what had replaced her? llooked the answer: "Der Post-Thatcherismus."

the paper and discovered this was the 23 November, indeed perhaps same

1990, and I realized that, in a strange pallid British for my own nation too an era was her. Even in not in the

echo of the Wende just a year before,

at an end. The world would not be the same without not in the same way

2.
The sense of an ending, the sense of an. epochal transition, at the moment, but of course
«

Britain epochs could close, walls could come down, the Nineties could start ~

way
great

as in the centre of Europe, psycho-dramas now

perhaps

is what we live in bi-centhat in

as in the

afflicting

the

former

it

is something

that has marked the close of all

superpowers momentous suggests differently,

of the old Cold War world, but in some relation to the great and change that now casts tis meaning across our present seminar, and history ideology and ideas differently, of the imagination, Post modernism and, inevitably, literary forms, and

the modern centuries

one reason why we have so many centennials, just now, Perhaps it is appropriate the Bicentennial or unconsciously, laser-lit, late modem restaurant, beamed

tennials and even quinquecenrennials prices on the art market, Revolution. late twentieth evenements celebrate, there century designed

to us all that we now live in an epoch that will perceive differently.

1989, the year of the Coming Down of the Berlin Wall, already selling at high we also celebrated spectaculars, of the French the quality of wo:rld-wide, which

the very structures something structed whether

Indeed both acquired, consciously television for the disco-excited conference

I do not know whether it for ourselves

is at an end or not, but I know and of ideology as we have con-

is, the world of .the imagination

age. This year we

over the last 45 years, when we were all in the same is a largely American
Of

or mourn, the Bicentennial steak in
OUf

of the death of Mozart. Mozart

is

why on

Cold War together,

even if we lay on different sides of it. I also do not know phenomewhether it describes

is Mozart

symphonies

I want to agree that Postmodernism

every concert programme,
Columbus's

and why the CD companies

are havin,g a peculiarly years since

non, as I think we are bound to assume in this seminar, a larger cultural condition in matters of understanding point of time ourselves.

good year. In 1992, next year, we wiill celebrate the five hundred voyages and his so-called. discoveries, of another New World order, from which many historians not be considering the Postmodern.

or the state of an epoch. What is clear to me is that how epochs form and change, we are at such a Tile coming down of the Berlin

in other words the coming would actually date would probably the start of the

Wan in

1989, the the

the beginning of the modem, and without which we ourselves

radical political changes that have already begun to usher in the Nineties,

But if you are looking

fOT

84

85

Malcolm B.radbury

Postmodernism,

me Novd,

and the TV Medium

(I)

Modem, you could equally well. look to the other great anniversaries: the anniversary of the French Revolution, which ushered in both the Romantic

pointedi So in its way did the Biffel Tower itse1f. In fact it was disliked by almost everyone at the time - DeMaupassant, you remember, always used to dine in its restaurant, because it was, he said, the only place in Paris you could not see the Tower from - and it was almost pulled down along with the rest of the fair ..But it remained, and proved to be useful after all, for it duly became a radio and communications towel'. And eventually it became a yet more complex sign, the-very symbol of Paris itself, as a city of the modem. In 1989, when the Revolutionary celebrations came round again, it was harder still.to know what was being celebrated. The solution was to make a double celebration, a. celebration of a celebration of the Bicentennial of the Revolution, but also of the Centennial of the Eiffel Tower. In other words, you could celebrate at once the spirit of revolutionary romanticism and the

Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, and the anniversary of that anniversary, which could well be seen as the starting point of the Age of the Modem. For in 1889, when France was in a period of considerable instability, it came

time to celebrate the anniversary of the Revolution, a. difficult task, since they hardly wanted to restage it so soon after the Paris Commune ..They decided,
as the French do, to build an edifice, and turned to M. Gustave Eift'el, maker of canals, bridges, observatories and railway stations. a great ironwork

engineer, inviting him to put a bridge across the Seine. Eiffel produced a
surprise: his bridge did not go across, it went <up- to where or what it was not clear. It was an extraordinary phallus, erected into or against the sky, the world's tallest manmade structure, until General Franco put up his cross over the Valley of the Heroes in Spain. It was
II!

spirit of the Modem - the abstract and technological leap into the 20th century
which the French began by despising and eventually came to love and respect. The Eiffel Tower was lovingly restored, celebrations,

message, ~et it was not a message:

no text was inscribed on it. It was a symbol, yet a symbol that spoke obscurely. It was a monument without reference to what it referred to, in fact a monument not to a past revolution, which was now historically displaced, but to a present one, technological capacity itself As Roger Shattuck put it, it was "in its truculent stance, ... the first monument of the Modern." But what was the modern it was a monument to? In fact the Tower did not stand alone. It was the centrepiece of a great Exposition, a world fair of a type that had .also dominated the late 19th century, and which we too are now repeating. for example in Expo 92 in Seville next year. The fair was largely concerned with the modern technologies that were transforming the age, and the hero of it, apart from the monumental Eifi'el himself,

and became a focus of the
a new

Meanwhile, there was a new age to acknowledge,

president to monumentalize. So now a new architect, in fact the ChineseAmerican, l.M. Pei, was commissioned to create a ground-breaking building. He took the task literally, delving into the catacombs and foundations of the Louvre, and so reconstructing a layered history; this he capped. with a geodesic pyramid that was in several senses unmistakably postmodern, selfconsciously epochal. deferring to Buckminster Fuller and new, lightweight, Wtech materials. it was not the only such building that gratified the French presidential edifice complex. When. one president earlier, the Pompidou Centre was built, an intestinal building with corrosion built in, it contained, in fact, a digital clock, the Genit.ron, which declared its own epochal meaning by ticking over the seconds to pass to the coming of the year 2000. In that year the clock moves to 000,000, the second millennium ends, and the next future begins; the future after the modem.

was

an American, "the Sage of Memlo Park," inventor of the phono-

graph and the new incandescent light bulb, with which in fact the fair itself was lit at night. He was of course Thomas Alva Edison, inventor or developer of much of the key technology that was to transform the streets, homes and communications of the twentieth century. And it was to the twentieth century, otherwise known as the "modern century," that the celebrations actually

86

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Malcolm Bradbury

Postmcdernism,

the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)

3.
We are used to monuments and buildings, exhibitions and fairs, being epochal, But we also recognize the epochality of all the other arts - the romantic arts, the modern arts, the postmodern arts. Such plainly temporal facts help us to start thinking about the nature of the modern, which may not be the same as the modernist, the postmodern, which may not be the same as the postIDQdemist, and, what comes after, the post after the postmodem. 1889 is a handy year to think about, because as I have already suggested. it was selfconsciously a year of the modem. Eiffel and his tower did not stand alone. The modem was everywhere talked about, along. with the "new." It was the year when those, thinkers and writers George Brandes called "the men of the modem breakthrough" seemed to dominate in Europe. Nietzsche, went mad that year, from too much of the modem, but he also published some of his most. apocalyptic, future-searching work. Henri Bergson published the work we title in English Time and Free Will, with its theory of inner time or the subjective imprint of consciousness. The next year William James published his Principles of Psychology, and a little later Signmnd Freud put out his plate in Berggasse in Vienna and began performing the famous "talking cure," Where the new minds went the writers followed. Bergson influenced his cousin by marriage, Marcel Proust. William James influenced his brother Henry. And Sigmund Freud, in due time, became surely th.e biggest influence of all, on the intellectual, the emotional, the erotic, the sexual, the psychological and indeed ilie aaestethic content ofthe modem novel, at least in Western Europe and perhaps especially in the United States. And right across Europe the idea of the "modem" became the essential transitional currency, as a new age loomed. It was Jugendstil, it was decadence. It was the spirit of fin de siecle, of aube de siecle, It marked the coming of new thoughts and technologies, and the dying of empires, especially the Austro-Hungarian. It displayed the coming of new radical social dreams, from socialism to anarchism, which disordered the structures of the age; it

displayed the spirit of belle epoque, the continuity of the bourgeois age. It constructed revolutionary new styles, like Sezession, which declared their epochality; "to the age its own arts," as it says on the Sezession building in Vienna. We can go to almost any of the great European capitals, from Paris to Vienna to Madrid and Barcelona and Budapest and Milan, and see the massive, and monumental, new building this generated, often the making of new city plans, not infrequently stimulated by some great new world fair. We CM go to the' James Stirling Staatsgelerie here in Stuttgart and see in the paintings there the epochal. spirit in all its new strength of assertion - not just new styles, new curves and angles, new colours, new distortions and abstractions, new allusions and mythologies, but new sexual attitudes, new gender relations, new urban types, new glimpses of technologies and social masses, which the arts came to serve, or which came to serve the arts. The arts of this time are plainly epochal, the mark of a time of transition, when the veil trembles, the sign shifts, symbols are transformed, the discourses alter, and there is plainly a movement in human consciousness and in the nature of historical self-awareness, as Nietzsche and Ibsen and so many more commentators asserted. Though there IS continuity there too, there are times, when, as Nietzsche so powerfully asserted, the winds of change blow hard; and the shifting of consciousness becomes a key historical fact. AJ] this acquires the strength of a communal feeling, it takes on a character as a philosophy, it acquires the form of a distinctive aesthetic. It acquires the fonn of a style in its largest sense, an episteme. It happened in Britain, and in the United States, which, as the celebration of Edison. indicated, was very much a part of it. In Britain the book of 1889 may have been Jerome K. Jerome's very suburban comedy Three Men in a Boat, but decadence began, and the Celtic Twilight, from which was born W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, Writers began to think French, or think Scandinavian, and the transitional" famously fragile, highly aesthetic generation flourished for a season. until. as Yeats said, they fell off their barstools, or died. The generation was shortlived, and thrived on incontrovertible contradictions - split between ideas of technological progress 89

88

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodemism,

the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)

and

medieval yearnings,

historical

hope and

a sense of

universal

decadence.

The relationship disaster Marinetti,

between the Modem movement in the arts and that crisis or -

An era ended, an era began. And the coming of another century intensified to
a high degree the epochal, millenarian, chiliastie feeling. We are surely right to take the last decade of the in its double aesthetics, Moving sense

is

apocalyptic

last

century as the founding epoch of the modern, technology, and social restructuring; in

and obscure, but it is undoubtedly there promises, the technological excitements of, for the desire to purge the order and consciousness of the
complex prewar

in

the

instance. past. We modern that of

- in science,

might

say that

Modernism,

Modernism

I,

marks

the

sensibility, consciousness
onward

and the arts.
have aU become part of of the mind, art have been In the flourished

movement expression. movement

in its hope, its sense of'futuristic

promise, its search for new age of Modernism 2, represents so to speak, the history of which It is a time of

by 25 years from 1889, and it is 1914. The airplane, the
and Edison's electric technologies of consciousness, the frontiers of indeterminacy,

tank, the motor-car life. The frontiers

In this case postwar in its crisis, as it comes

Modernism, to

occupy,

it had claimed to be the avant-garde,

the forerunner.

despair,

opened by new theories, ten years or so before tivism, Imagism, challenging

relativity, the unconscious.

fissure well as

and fragmentadon. the revolution of

of a history as the nightmare from which the artist

1914, radical, avant-garde

movements

is trying to awake. It is the age of the collapsed modem epic, of the crisis as

right across Europe - Cubism, Fauveisrn, Expressionism, Vorticism, between. this and the technological of political frontiers, acceleration tile rise

Futurism, Constructhe the

the word.

The. last. great text from

was Joyce's Finnegan's
of Ulysses,

and more, It is not bard to see the connection of the big nationstates, social conflicts" of new

Wake, which took

16 years

to write,

the completion

fragmentation
empires of

of established and

empires, the insecurity of the classes and the risthat moves through the cities and Empire home the growing feeling that these are indeed Europe and not-Europe,

published in the Modernist annus mirabilis of 1922, to 1939, when its publication coincided with the second eruption of European disorder, and the age with which the Modem movement had coincided collapsed into the most
modem displaced. modem modernist Modernism, collapsing of wars. By now most of the movement's central figures had been of modem cinema,

ing role of the masses, the rising disorder

Europe

brings

Freud was in London, and died there in 1939. Brecht and Mann

last days. Then, on the old faultline of the Austro-Hungarian

Ottoman

Empire,

on the edge between

comes in the city of Sarajevo, now again a battlefield, and what has in hope or tremulous the Great War, the World War, is created modern Europe but much of the technological some had thought

and the the shot been born
of

were in the United States, as were architecture and modem

many

of the makers

painting,

who had begun their careers

in
of

Europe.

1939 came at the end of tile dying or the murder had first brought

anxiety around 1889 turns to global crisis. In that crisis, not only the lasting disorder abstract frenzy of violence that There is

and

was, in its European

form at least, the end of Modernism, it to

with. much of the spirit of the Eumpethat

birth.
But by now Modernism no longer needed to be considered as a solely Eurobook ban-

long hidden within the potential of the modem.

also created the first "modem" workers' state, Bolshevik Russia, founded on a

secular social idea created more than 50 years before, and offering a. twentieth
century ideology that would attract many who did not in fact ever have to live within the Marxist state. order, which proved to

terrors, cruelties, rungs, silencings, murders, persecutions. of
pean phenomenon. The the central representatives

camps, bombardme.nts,

the 1930s had helped drive

and their successors

be

aversion

of the

modern

found an exiled home in the United States. an American contingent,

many of across the Atlantic, where they This process was helped by the
which had long had came to regard as peculiarly

totalitarian

peculiar hospitality of America to the Modem movement, and which Americans

90

9[

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (i)

attuned to its modern, progressive
corporate modem American, Many political intend

and technological

face. Here Modernism

perhaps the post-European condition," George the unprecedented

era. "We come after, and that is the nerve of our

couLd truly build the buildings it aspired to, thanks to the smiling spirit of

Steiner famously wrote in

Language and Stlence,

"After

capitalism. Here the age of "the arts of mechanical reproduction"
communications and culture. Modernism became

ruin of human values and hopes by the political brutality of after Hiroshima, and there was little or

that Walter Benjamin had referred to could become a dominant system of late

the age." We came after Auschwitz,

increasingly
in European and Rohe did not

nothing to say. The connection between our post- generation

and the pre-war
Those on the Wyndham

and became a different thing from what it had been in Europe.
ideas, born of crisis and possibility home. Gropius and Mies van of Bauhaus and social thought, broke loose of their place of conception

writers was plainly broken. There was a sense of ruination in European literature. Its leading figures had been exiled, or else been tainted. tight were tainted

of its underlying

by

the implication of Fascism, including Pound, lay in monumental of self-conscious

found a changed! ideological the architectural but skyscraper,

der

Lewis, even Eliot; those on the left were equally tainted, by the affiliation with Stalinism. Modernism ruins behind us, its last monument, deconstruction.

adventure workers'

the new

cities

or Europe.

to produce

the commercial

What Hitler and Stalin did
of art moved westward; displaying selfchic, said,

Finnegan's Wake, a work

German literature
with ex-

not want, Seagram and Pan Am did, and, as Toin Wolfe put it, they moved
from Bauhaus European creating creating to our House. The marketplace of European thought and displaced abstraction subjectivity.

had been silenced or shattered, the word polluted. ceptions like Silone and Moravia, was been collaborators, imagination
OF

Italian literature,

in

a similar state. In France writers had or perverted

became American Abstract Expressionism,
European of became American

silent at the wrong time. The horror of the century, the

not tile demonumentalization

art forms but am American intellectual Derrida

writer, writing itself, silenced, obscured In 1947 Sartre published the writer's engagement, dominant distanced movements his What

by the state, the liberal
and attempted to define

defeated, was the lesson of the day.

a

tradition

thinking

that

continued
As

through

Is Literature",

Existentialism, "Deconstruction

Stmcturalism
is America"

Deconstruction. of

his or her responsibility.

He pronounced

that thetwo

- late European

philosophical

speculation

of the twentieth

century - in effect, the modern move-

curiously
develop,

resembled

the outer and inner architecture

America. Perhaps

the

ment, then the political writing of the 1930s - were finished, and historically if not tainted. Writers in the postwar world took on the task of a required to begin again, with a fresh commitment, had died. Similar questions after its political destruction to re"third generation," renewal

meaning (or at least one meaning) of the term Postmodemism, was what happened to Modernism

as it began to

when it got on the boat, Of the

jumbo, and went to

America,

valorize and make authentic the word.that

of the

of language
writers

or deconstruction
themselves attempted postwar

concerned in the same society. In The

the German

of Gruppe 47, who announced

4,
When I began as a writer - let me say, a very young writer - in the 1950s, everything was holocaust era,

year. So they did in Italy, where a new nee-realism social and moral crisis of poverty-ridden,

to deal with the

war-broken

Britain writers who had been leftwing in the 19305 moved away from Communism, or what was called in the title of a famous book of recantation God That Failed. Isherwood,

post. it

It was the postwar era, the war and its aftermath written and we were postwar writers. It was the postera. It was the post-imperial era, and

firmly into our consciousness,

An

entire literary generation,the Greene, withdrew from their

generation apparent

of Auden, ideological

was the post-atomic

Spender,

92

93

Malcolm Bradbury

Pestmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium ( 1)

origins, and Auden famously rewrote his poetry, turning a Marxist imagery and discourse into a Christian imagery and discourse. Writing now began tQ

the results were parochial; in the case of other plainly major writers, like Saul

Bellow,

Of

Albert Camus; or John Fowles, there is a clear consciousness after MusU, after Kafka. This endeavour, this search

of

rewrite itself, and new writers felt themselves without a tradition. Here an essential figure was George Orwell; who cast a strong influence
over the postwar generation. In 1945, in the same week the atomic bombs fell on Japan and the war came to an end, he published Animal Farm, a bitter satire on Stalinism. all the more powerful because tne book had been in effect suppressed during the war. He followed it with the bleak dystopian prophecy 1984, published just before his death in 1950- a tale of coming totalitarianism with a British setting. Orwell in effect represented the tum that bad come to the task of being a writer, distaruand Neither irrelevant.except its aesthetics
It

the novel seriously exploring what it means to come after Proust, after Joyce, after Mann, literature for a of new realism. of refreshed commitment, of authenticity,

that is

marked by the voice of Orwell, the arguments of Sartre, and the achievements of many writers in a variety of countries, including many important American figures from Bellow and Mailer to Salinger and Updike, essential stage in the history of what we
DOW

is, I believe,

an

call "postmodemism." used! in a historical and

And in fact that concept was already alive, and Well, and living in America at the time. Indeed the idea of the "postmodem, "though nation for the social and technological structures sense, was developed in the 1930s and 1940s by Arnold Toynbee as an explaof later industrialism

novelist, in Britain. The Modem movement perhaps for the continuing
,

was

influence of Eliot. flavours had great

nor its political

or ideological ,

significance. We belonged to a postwar world where the climate of European conflict, far from having ceased, looked ever more terrible, as the hot war was followed by the cold. The very literature of the age seemed driven into silence" a subject on which Ihab Hassan has written brilliantly in his book

capitalism, But it was also increasingly acquiring a critical meaning in architecture, and in literature. In 1959 Irving Howe, the American critic, published an important essay in Partisan Review called "Mass Society and Postmodem tion." where he sought to define some, of the characteristics successor to Modernism. He identified "postmedern Ficof a fiction

The

Literature of Silence.Sarire's

argument was so interesting to us because he

fiction" as the fiction of

seemed to resist the Claims of Steiner and Adorno, or the bleaker implications of Beckett. F'rom silence the word might be born again. as valid noise. The task of the writer, the task of the word, was to make real. It is a task that has, of course, been contested by writing and philosophy ever since. What I am concerned with here isa postwar environment arguments and for very obvious reasons. If you are trying to reconstruct the ruins, if you are seeking for authority beyond absurdity you are pursuing the search for authenticity,
begin

the age of postwar affluent alienation, rather than prewar social protest, the

novel of the disappearing hero. of modem anomie, of the world of the lonely
crowd, of the time of the loss of self - a literature. in fact, of displaced and anxious realism. One thing Howe's article, and similar critical development at thiis time, as clearly indicates is that the age of the Modem is over. Indeed in the pages of Partisan Review and similar magazines Modernism was being historicized, the major movement continuity inherited. tradition, avant-garde The Modem of early twentieth which Movement century writing. proposing the contemporary writer and a discontinuity both a logically as a The

in which a set of language from if out of
trying

grow which are highly defensive toward a certain idea of realism, the silence,

if you are

to This

invest Iiterature with social, moral and historical responsibility, to return toward
something

then you will aesthetic.

was in fact being reconstructed

resembling

a realist

to which the contemporary

writer could! look back. in anger, or The important

happened,

indeed. in most of the literary traditions in the years after the war,

necessity, but with which he or she was by definition not contemporary. was now the derriere garde, but still marching.

in Germany, in Italy, in France, in Britain, and in the United States. Sometimes

94

95

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodemism,

the Novel, and the TV Medium (I)

acknowledgement, never really made till this time, was that Modernism indeed

was that

from 1964 to 1970 or so. It was a period of enormous richness, and several of the writers in this room are importantly responsible for that. Since then, it must be said, Postmodernism constituted itself has been increasingly hlstoricized: It has a tradition influential on many younger writers. It has become, marked by the end of the great condition, the

the epochal movement

of the

twentieth

century,

But

acknowledgment also meant constructing a "modern tradition," a coherent and unified version Many divergent of the early twentieth century arts, an aesthetic tradition generally seen as hostile to ideology and politics, which was itself arguable, movements, often intrinsically hostile to each other, from and different cultures, were different times, different ideological backgrounds a concept of the Postmodern, The emergence of a strong idea of the Postmodem has perhaps been a more accelerated process than that of a clear and coherent idea of the Modern Movement, but by then much of the work had been done. By 1964, 25 years after 1939, there was an argument plainly in place, By now there had been a fimdamental change in the climate of American fiction (I am here particularly concerned with the novel). There was the felt impact of the French nouveau

increasingly, the name for an epochal situation, a meta-style. It has become an historical condition, the Postmcderncondition, come back to this in my second meta-narratives, or co-equal with the age of late capitalism. It is, and I shall lecture, a technological expression of an age of screens, depthlessness, and hyper-reality. If you look at Margaret A Rose's new book The Post-modern and the Post-industrial (Cambridge University Press, 1991), a handbook of usages and definitions, you will find a multiplying body of definitions infinitely extending and multiplying the nature of this epochal concept, as our cultural, sociological, aesthetic and philosophicai observers attempt to analyze and categorize the contemporary epochal scene.

historicized into unity - a necessary step" you might say, in the construction of

roman, which had been attracting attention since the 19505. The black humour
novels of Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut had begun to appear, turning the topic of war not into an immediately recent event but into a. modem agony, still continuing into an age of absurd weaponries. The fiction of Vladimir Nabokov and William Burroughs had become available after initial publication in Paris, Ken Keseyhad published One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Sylvia Plath ,The. Bell Jar, John Hawkes Second Skin; there was
It

5.
The calendar I have used in this talk has a certain elegance, but of COUrSe it can be dangerous; dates are not facts. But it does, to my judgement, suggest that the cultural and stylistic evolution direction of the twentieth century as we look at it from the standpoint of the Europeanized West does have a certain shape. The modem movement had something like a fifty year lifespan; the postmodem movement, if by that we mean both the postwar attempt, in existentialism's climate, at literary and artistic reconstruction and the more reflexive, metafictional phenomena of the later 19608, has also been with us for a similar length of time. Like the modern movement itself, the period I have been describing falls into two stages, often in dialogue or contention with each other. Fifty years is a very long time in the history of an aesthetic tendency in art or writing. And now, as I have suggested, a hundred years on from the

clear turning

toward meta-fiction, and the following two years saw the appearance of John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy, William Gass's Omensetter's Luck, and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying oj Lot 49. Soon afterwards, in 1967, John Barth published his influential essay "The Literature of Exhaustion," proposing the used-upedness of story, at much the time that another Barthes, Roland, was proposing the Death of the A uthor and the scriptlble nature of the text, Indeed some of the most interesting works of fiction that we identify with Postmodem fiction were American books of a certain period - the finest seem to lie somewhere between 1960 and the mid-1970s, peaking in the period

96
~o

97

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (1)

larger episode

itself, which we can describe charged

as ModemismIPostmodemism, in the map of of one their

a fictional universe rates of exchange

that overlaid a real geography, - between would say, dialogic

and had its own strange conflagrational, This has of with each other. Europe

the seDse of epochality, fundamental powerful as ideology

by massive transformation

East and West, contrapuntial,

world power and the structure

of the world order,

by

the collapsing moved toward

and in the end, as Bakhtin

and the self·deconstructing

of the other,' is quite as

ceased to be the world in which I live, in which I write. In fact I write in a
world of fraying edges, where even the Napoleonic Jacques Delors and the European Commission dreamed

it

was when llie two previous

centuries

by

fragile close. In }'989, that extraordinary across the Hungarian Raymond movement, nouncements seemed, Federman border,

seems to have no clear fringe, home,"

year, when the refugees from the DDR came when the Berlin Wall came down, one of the archpriests movement, when, as of the Postmodem Samuel Beckett, and soon - we plateau. Because had capitalism

no stopping place. I am not sure where to find the "common European Russia is no longer a superpower,

] am no longer sure :what countries and nations lie to the East of my world. but I am not sure that the United States is either.
From the viewpoint fragmentation fundamental through engaged Lyotard of a European writer, and here I would claim at last that a European writer, the our frontiers, our sense of culture as we have of the century, I think,

mentioned,

and a close link with the Modem grew - Fukuyama's

died, when the French Bicentennial was celebrated and when the epochal pro"The lEnd of History," on a utopian for the moment, Because to find ourselves

I do feel myself to be, in some real sense,
of our ideologies,

Marxism
succeeded.

had failed it was, assumed

that

liberal or frelhnarket had dissolved.

salvaged it from the repeated and endless destructions
thing that is now happening. and aesthetic an intellectual or Baudrillard. fragmentation,

is the
passing or and

the East of Europe ofthe

it was assumed we
home,"

We are also, or the arguments

would have a new Europeanism as Gorbachev declared,

West, "our common European

of a kind not entirely of Derrida of our recent

The utopian plateau is no longer a secure place. The

by the notion of Postmodernism,

free market has proved not to be quite so free, even for unified Germany.
There is the prospect Thatcher has

Many of the most striking features world. The fiction of Kundera,

of a massive recession, and, as I have said, even

Mrs
as

writing lie on the passage through and over the frontiers of the postwar, shall we say postmodern, ways that duplicated duplicated modernity literature,

gone of a

from

office,

presumably to some higher but less influential utopia of 1989 plainly masked

of Roth, of Bellow,

one. in the House of Lords. The transcendental the evolution Europe continuing

or Bruce Chatwyn, of Ian McEwan, of John Hawkes, is haunted by it. In many world, East and West, has helped create our refracted, as it did

historical problem,

an

ever eniargingcrisis,

is in fact returned to many of the problems that had been masked by

in

the fiction

of Joseph

Conrad,

whose

the long stasis of 1945-89. Speaking as a writer, I find myself in a world where changed. years,

lay in part because he saw so often under both Eastern and Western I think this has given us the underlying

my

task has suddenly were

eyes. To some degree homelands, estranging

spirit of

What I understand

is that forall of my writing life, for all of 45

Postmodem literature, with its sense of mirrored duplicity and its imaginary
its sense of moving beyondfixed realisms and it.s need for the and the ambiguous freedom of the shifting sign.

I lived in a world where my own head, my own imaginings,

sbaped by the strange geography of my age. I had my own mental iron curtain, a dualled world that saw life divided between liberal capitalism Marxist society on the other. Willi each of these compartments sympathies on one side, I had both

Now the frontiers are shifting again, and I for one am conscious of a new era of writing. A book I have greatly enjoyed lately is Claudio Magris's (1986), not a novel but a meditation on the passage

Danube

and dissents; from these I shaped! my imaginary worlds. I wrote of

of the river Danube

98

99

Malcolm Bradbury

through and out of Europe. He summons up the cultural history of the river, which includes many of the essential sites of Modernism, Vienna, of course, above all. He takes ill Freud and Kafka, Lukacs and Canetti, the thinkers of the river, or of Mitteleuropa. In a fascinating passage about Georgy Lukacs, he reflects on Lukacs' very modem attempt to use the intellect, reason, to construct an order or philosophy that will manifest but also control the diversity of the world that flows into nothingness downstream beyond his window, Magris's own book follows the river, downstream beyond reason and. into randomness, contingency, the essential uncertainty of history. As an important modem book, this belongs for me with the novels of Calvino or Umberto Eco, or for that matter the fiction of John Barth or the travellers' speculations of lhab Hassan, in formulating a task of writing in an age of changed disorders,
it.

William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture Two: Form

I am going to treat the development of fiction as a search for form. One way of treating the history of any art is to see it as engaged in such a search. For then we are examining its growth from the inside, as the activity turns upon itself to discover its true interior, its essence, its aim. Tshall have to repeat, alas more casually, a few things I have written of elsewhere with more precision and more care. If we can except writers like Cervantes and Rabelais (which of course is a bit like speaking in a theology of everything but the deity), the origins of the novel in the 18th century show it to be an
art

time of Wende, a time of reconstructed

ideologies, next

identities, nationalities, psychologies, philosophies, frontiers and fissures, a time, I would suppose, after the Postmodern, IWd before, in fact,the thing: an epochal time in which we need, above all, our arts and our writers.

in sear-chof a soul, a nature, in

short, a form, En his book The Rise of the Novel Ian Watt suggests that the novel's early formlessness was the price it paid for its realism" and he goes on to say that it is dangerous for the novel to be an imitation of another kind of literary work, one presumably, like a poem or play,blessed with rigor, enjoying more constraints, exhibiting more art But the fact is that the early novel borrowed its forms, and borrowed its realism as well, by' copying already existing prose' works. Early novels are literally made-up copies of the format of non-flctlonal works, and ape their use of language, We might divide this activity of "making-up" into two kinds: printed and oral. Under the heading of the printed would fall diaries and journals, travel books, history and other biography, collections of letters, and. so on. There were, in addition, philosophical essays, news reports. and political reflections. All of these types had structures designed to reveal the necessities of history, the demands of geography, the nature of human psychology, and the rigors of reasoning.They

100

William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture Two: Form

were linear in conception, and dedicated, Narration

causal or rational in the connection

of their parts, exposition

everyday mentalities

life, the excitement of courtship

of scandal, the titillations in a book. debased

of sex, the easy senti-

they always said, to the truth. mode, had two

and romance, data which would validate their own exthese desires, the traditional historical and

was the skill required by the historian and anecdotalist,

istence simply by being mentioned The novel, to accomodate conception poker tables, seduction novels were endlessly could

was the philosopher's and ideas unfolded. The tions,

by

means of which meditations

were carried on

of reality to include muddy boots and adultery. nosy, with a voracious

and dyed hair, washtubs of these

oral tradition

branches.

There was, of course the formal ceremonial

oral
ora-

The readers

new

things called on

presentation: conversation, c-opy of its realism frequently world,

sermons;

lectures,

alas, like this one, debates,

appetite

for small things they events, and they of voyeur-

and so on; and then there were the informal sorts: gossip,

anecdote, It

swallow -

chit chat, dress.

food.

fleeting feelings, what happened heroics and glorious

slanging matches, and so forth. The early novel was a fictional form The realism of the novel is initially derivative. some other form whose realistic purposes parts

dates - and they wanted uncomplicated some sense identify. The

a factual

gains
were

wanted to share safely other lives, particularly

lives with which they might in an instrument trivia and, unlike people, digni-

by copying

novel

became progressively

alleged and widely accepted, If such and such a person, Bartram for extensively
3!

ism. It also became a dense form, full of facts, emphasizing

one, had traveled

to interesting

and little-known

of the

classical tragedy, amused by ordinary and relatively unimportant

and then had written

book about his adventures,

then the novelist of the being

fying dull and uninteresting
really where the action is." These

lives, presumably,

by saying in fact: "Boy, this is
of society by stress-

would hurry along behind" mimicking the mode, setting Caruso ashore upon a distant island" making up what tilled the fact-filled model: the character country, the customs of the natives, the consequences What interests adequately philosophies represented? There were histories of the climate, etc. me is why? Why make up a reality which is already

novels

had a positive effect on our understanding

ing individuals and concrete conditions,
left out of regular histories.

those simple people who were usually

The style of such works had to be respectable The rise of the novel,

and

biographies

aplenty,

moral and nice, but not intrusive. It d.are not interrupt the narrative flow or get in the way of the reader's obscene passion for content. oddly enough, is roughly contemporary Ford ,- or simultaneous - with the decline of made book,

weighed the bookstore

shelves. travels amazed and amused; the

former prime minister's papers of state and letters of note could be held in the hand. So why fake it? Because what there was a new audience, used to call important and this audience was not interested in

prose, especially in English. To iliis end I want to quote an observation

by

Ford Madox

in

his very quirky but invaluable

The March of

we

affairs, but in their affairs. Especially

in affairs

Literature. He says:
'The modem English language bas never, or at any rateuntil the beginning of the present century, been a very good vehicle for prose. To put it roughly; We might say that the great periods and cadences of the 17th century had by the 18th deteriorated into a sort of mechanical rhythm and that by the 19th century and the avoidance of the sort of pomposity and the dry rhythm of the 18th century, the language became so timid and indefinite that it was impossible to use it for making any definite statement,

of the heart. It was a bourgeois that heavy-weight serious substance correspondence, biographies,

audience, largely made of women, who found. work, or the official Ordinary state documents, minds.

history, the realities of Gibbon's monumental of some great man's biography, descriptions midclass values,

of distant flora and fauna, not to their unedu-

cated taste, their vulgar
to know. Which

the tittletattle

standard. histories, left out everything

this audience

really wanted

was

what they have wanted to. know since: the trivial items of

102

103

William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture 'Two; Form

The triumph of print also meant that literature could safely abandon the for-. mulas of poetry, the oral tradition, and all of those forms designed to help us retain in our memories what was being said, because the reader didn't have to remember permanent what he could turn back to and see, now the text was the record, and had become memory it.self. Print was enormously

gave new twists to the seduction theme. If the reader moves the text, the text must entice the reader to read on. If that reading eye wavers, the text dies. Look at me so I'll remain alive, is a cruel version of Berkeley's esse est percipi. And what is more likely to propel that eye and widen that look than sex in whatever form is acceptable to the reader, not as he'd profess in a public forum but one he'd enjoy in the privacy of his printed page. Richardson champion among prick teasers. Seduction, is the and its cost: that is his SUbject.

linear. The eye could flee across the page with the mind right behind it, faster and faster. The quaint notion developed that the faster you read, the better. In tbe oral tradition, the motion of the text lay with the speaker, as it does in music, with the player. The text moved in the way the speaker's voice moved. If you didn't pay attention, if your mind wandered, you lost the text. It was also true that a poor text could be made to sound pretty accomplished orator. Furthermore, from a reading was illusory. With the victory of print, then, something veil)' important motion of the text passed to the reader. good by an the immediacy of meaning one received happened. The

Pamela faints every time she is pawed. It is perfect. Turn the page. With a varnish of erudition, ediiication, moralizing, and sad ends, the novelist slaves the conscience Socrates, of the book buyer, Education is seduction. It was so with and it is so with the Marquis de Sade, whose writings provide us method. De Sade has an ill-formed and badly borrowed

with a revolutionary

theory of human nature which he describes and defends at length in his books. He then puts in some sexuaUy stimulating passages, and the reader's arousal proves his philosophical erection, and D for damp. The novel begins, then, as entertainment,
cally
II

And the idea was to read rapidly.

points. Q.E.D. where Q stands for quim, E for voyeuristic, class-flaaterisg, gossip-mongering stylisti-

Who would imagine reading aloud, even to one's self, the many hundreds of pages of Clarissa Hariowe'l Then, because the reader didn't have, to remember anything, the novel began, perversely, to demand complete attention and total recall. If we compare a novel written to be read in this sense like Tam Jones (where Fielding supposes tbat by the end of the novel the reader will have forgot about as much of Tom Jones's life as Tom Jones has) with a much more complicated work like Ulysses, where the author now expects us to remember w:hat happened on the first page in order to apply it to the last. He expects us to remember because the text itself remembers, not just the gist of its past pages, but their entire presence and order. Moreover, every past page rises like a wave to envelop the oncoming ones, and bears down upon them, altering their meaning. Now, of course, trained by Joyce, we read Fielding in the Joycean way, no doubt falsifying Fielding's intentions. Philosophy's role in all of this can be found in the so-called Rousseau, Richardson "education in the novel" ~ those of Goethe, - but especially

with made-up real forms and facts, dense, time-bound,

plain, witb a realistic format borrowed from fact-filled modes, and made

morally palpable by a sauce of social relevance and moral uplift. It achieves a

kind of verification through the emotional identification of the reader with the characters and their situations, and it ensures the motion of the reader through
the text by means of a series of shrewdly placed titillations and allurements, The average bad novel (which is the average novel) is was then. Eventually, serious novelists began to form their worlds, not as they thought their readers might like them, but as they felt the world enough, philosophical really was. Interestingly systems often describe these novelistic that the linear structure of the traditional critic of
DO

different today as it

worlds quite well, and often, in terms of structure, better than the novelist could. It began to be understood novel had philosophical and political significance. The philosophical

writings of the Marquis de Sade, whose book, Philosophy in the Boudoir

104

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William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture Two: Form

such literature could approach the novel's imaginary world in quite the . same way as beapproached upon its form. the real one, and read from it a system of thought based

c-arpet slippers, stared out The White House windows at the pelting rain, de-bated whether he should shit of get off the pot about the freedom of the

Curious contradictions arose. The plainly stated content of the Dovel might be contradicted by its organization. be message and content of Jean-Paul Sartre's later novels is presumably radical and politically advanced, but the form of these novels is wholly bourgeois, backward-looking, and pedestrian. Recognizing her structures as borrowed, as if an archltect were still building Georgian mansions. the novelist began to look instead at the other arts, envying them their ownerships of their modes, because the copied orders implicit in historical tomes or geographical adventures had not been created to satisfy esthetic aims, but for far more practical purposes. Great novelists had been overcoming the recalcitrance of these factual genres, yet who would deliberately cast a tale in the form of a tide fable of a romance in the format of a chemistry text when it would mean. nothingbut struggle and defeat? What does a novelist know best? the structure of ordinary life? does that set her apart from her neighbor? No. What she had better bow is the nature and life of language. What does the novelist do more often than any other act? She composes sentences, There the secret Jay; in the basic unit of prose, the sentenee itself. The best writers were comparatively self-conscious about their craft from the first - certainly Sterne and Fielding were. Later Flaubert, Joyce, and Stein would join them, They knew how important to the novel the structure of their sentences was. Sterne: lOA cow broke in tomorrow morning to my uncle Toby's fortifications. "
Stein: "It looked !.ike a garden, but he had hurt himselfby accident." First, the borrowed forms I've mentioned, were corrupted by the inclusion of gossip, trivia, and inconsequeatialities. Then, however, the novelist's entertain-

slaves, and couldn't get a word of the Proclamation written. Eventually, the novelist swiped stuff from the historian, so that now it is difficult sometimes to tell one genre from another.
Once the novelist's search for an indigenous form began, every possible field of activity was plundered: stealing, borrowing, mimicking, they seemed to be a curse. Great works were 'Iligain created against the grain. Rilke from poetic forms for The Notehooks borrowed oj Malle Laurids Brigge, Hermann

Broch used musical ones for The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Vergil, as did Gide for The Pastoral Symphony, and possibly Djuna Barnes Nighrwood. The titles of some novels indicate the power of the plastic forms upon the writers' imaginations: The Portrait of Dorian Gray, The portrait oj a LaJ;iy, The Portrait o/the Artist as a Young Man, and so on. In our time, the novelist began to incorporate actual. plastic elementsinto his work, as in the case of Robbe-Grillot, Donald Barthelme, and myself. James and Ford Madox Ford would use a word like "impressionism" sometimes to describe certain literary techniques and their effects, or, when considering the form of a work as a whole, employ the jargon of architecture. Henry James, having had a horrible experience with. actual dramas himself, imitated one in The Awkward Age supplying actors, stage directors, and an intelligent audience (people like himself). The discovery of the stream of consciousness (and it was a discovery), giving the novelist, at least, her own subseemed to provide a breakthrough,

ject: the novelist might at last say: "This!s mine." Thea, coupled with devices

determined by point of view, as could be found in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying,
in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldifr. and in Henry James throughout, world ofthe However, come a stream, the referential world a waking dream. the stream of consciousness was badly polluted, not the pure was in fact a place to paddle in as first thought. The stream of consciousness the novel could spring. to its own subjective life. Narrative had be-

ing additions, which the historian envied, were adopted by him for his work, in order to make it interesting, in order to Jazz it up. Lincoln didn't just sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Instead, hepadded about the Oval Office in his
106

107

William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture Two: Form.

sewer moment oration, stream.

full of borrowed

forms.

The same consciousness while at another time, TV commercials,

might be at one
its own funeral soaps, tit flicks,

I tried to demonstrate the importance and of inscriptional We begin, the garden.

how our cultural space is made of signs, and suggest and its devices, syntactical,

imitating a porno tale, in another a courtroom with the bases loaded, Radio announcers
were imitated,

drama, in still another

of its syntax; I said something about narration,

a ballfield

space as well, and touched upon grammatical, compositions

and logical spaces, including some of their differences.

books. Consciousness The moment novelists

had no form of its own, not even banks to its so-called arrived

m the

of any fiction, at the level of mythos. or story. dramatized; it could be painted in a series of Here we de-

This level lies outside language. It is like the tale of how I told on the lovers in of the metamoment imitated

at last. And it was hailed. We
and manners; we are and make

That tale could

be

have always

others,

stolen modes

panels; it could be filmed. The second level is that of narration. person they shall be presented, and choose the fundamental

worse than the Japanese; our own predilections;

so let's continue,

letts indulge ourselves,

cide how the story shalJ be told, how we shall order events; in what voice or

hay of our habits, but now we'll mimic other novelists instead; we shall parody we shall write At Swim-Two-Birds or The Sot-Weed

module of the acdisproportions I tied my

tion. This last is done in order to avoid unintentional

narrative

Factor. The subject of fiction will become the art of fiction itself and the
search for fonn the novel's search. There are many of these, each as various and wonderful and odd as Doctor Faustus,

such as are exhibited by the sentence: "After the battle of Waterloo, shoe." Then we have to deal with the level of inscription,

the actual writing,

The Cotil!Jterjeiters, parts of ReWake. Orlando. Pale Fire.
and so on. Evenwhat form was all the rigid, the

and

therefore

the

management

of the spaces

I have

already mentioned.

So we
word,

membrance
tually,of

oj Things Past. certainly Finnegan's
course, novelists

have to decide whether the written word is going to be the fundamental visible and ink-stained, spoken, be its substitute, heard yet pronounced Subsequent

Last in the Funhouse; The Universal Baseball Association,
and critics began to wonder

or whether the written word is going to stand for tile

Or whether it is going to, represent the unvoiced sub-

about anyway; what kind of thing did it manage to be; and wasn't the word itself significant authoritarian, of the sterile, the cold, the unresponsive,

vocal and internal whisper of the self, as I feel it always is in Beckett - our uninterior talk. levels are concerned

the dead, the abstract, the hollow, and the meaningless?

witn the way in which a text is experienced,

Form has always been feared. Content has always been admired. But this merely means that there have always been as few good readers and critics as writers, and as little love for literature cultivated discernment: as for anything demanding a discovered in reading and realized in writing. for the form of a thing, as Wittgenstein and the world toas they

the phen.omenologicallevel,

or arena of reading;

and

the ontological

level, that

is, the way in which the text, as such, exists. Reading, seen, on closer examination, maneuver, but a recursive Stein actually reproduces

which once was re-

garded as a pure, linear, pursuit of the word across and down the page, can be to be quite false. Reading is not a simple linear act, a back-and-forth. explored the shuttle-like, reality of act, one which reading in structure ofthe work itself.

In any field, when you speak of form, you must call upon a space, a space
where forms can be purely presented, pointed out, cannot be spoken about, it can only be shown, and these spaces are where we show them - the forms which hold thought some of these spaces, some which were thought gether as though they were their bones. In my first lecture, I tried to describe to be important appear both in the realm of ordinary life, and also in fiction and in philosophy.

the ontological brilliantly

Gertrude Geographical

The
him.

History oj America. One thing she liked to do was to parody or

repeat the reading process of the reader on the page, and thus confound If, for example, strange,

r

were to begin. a poem, and find its first line absolutely

] might read the line again. Of course, the poet only wrote the line

108

109

WiUiam Gass

Stuttgart Lecture Two: Fonn

once, So here we have the reader screwing up again, as I11SUali, reading the tine twice, Stein, anticipating this response, repeats the line herself. The reader says, in effect: "What are these two identical lines doing here?" and reads them both again, Anticipating this, she is likely to line up four lines in a row, mimicking the repetition, She also realized that as you are reading the doorbell will buzz or there wiU.be some other sort of interruption, causing;you to Start over, or skip, and so on. In fact, the structure of life Is based on these repetitions, We do the same things over and over: sitting down, opening a book, rubbing our eyes, smiling at a quip, hearing a bell, putting down our drink, marking our place, rising and walking to the door, greeting a guest... In the text time is represented as passing, And, of course, reading takes its own time too. Relating these is another authorial task. What an actual glance can take in a moment, words may take minutes to report. When I was young, there was a periodical our American Legion put out caned Liberty Magazine, and every article had a little clock printed beside its heading which indicated bow long it would take to read. Nowadays, such symbols sit alongside recipes to tell the harried housewife how long this dish will take to make. But reading time for whom? the swjft uninterrupted reader? or the beleaguered lip-mover? Nevertheless, the novelist sometimes matches the passage of time in the reader's life with the one the reader is reading about in his book. Joyce does this in Ulysses, a text which represents an entire day in the life of its world, and will take twenty-four absorbed hours of the reader's existence as well. Finnegan's Wake, whose circular path is endless, requires an ideal reader, suffering from ideal insomnia, to devote their entire life to its course. In The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann allots the same amount of text to Hans Castorp's first seven hours at the sanatorium, as he does to the next seven days, seven months" seven years. Once upon a time, the novelist liked to think she was creating characters, that is to say, people. Wha:t an extraordinary notion! "I'm creating creatures, I'm putting them in a landscape, I'm fashioning a town, I'm causing conflict, seizures of desire, throes of emotion." But if we watch what the novelist does, 110

and if we read the results, what we see done is the writing down of words, and what we read are words as well - words, words, words. So both writer and reader had better know what words are. If I looked at a canvas of Cezanne"s and said: "What a charming little clay pot, I wonder what it cost, I'd love a pot like that to put in my kitchen" - we should be making the most childish kind of mistake. The painting is not a mailorder catalogue. Why read novels as if they were reports from the front? Our next question is: what is the way a text exists apart from the way in which it is experienced? what is a text in itself? Clearly texts exist all at once, every word is simultaneous with every other, although texts must be experienced a bit at a time. The novelist is making a structure out of words, and it is in every way a spatial entity, dependent, as all meaning is, on a series of relations which can only be apprehended in a textual space. It is; a building with stories, passages, openings, stairs, and windows, It cam be entered almost anywhere. And although its represented events can be said to be past, as the reader's eye moves along, they do not disappear as real events do, but persist, waiting the next reading, or the reader's interested or puzzled return. A word is a mark, an imagined thing or quality or moment, anda meaningprincipally this last Meaning has no material existence. This was Plato's point. Meaning is the thought of a thing, And if the "container" of meaning is Mind, and Matter the world of the thing, then the mark, the token, the sign, is like Descartes' pineal gland, mediating between these two quite different realities: Mind Mark Matter - this is the structure of the stuff we work with when we write. Finally, as far as the list of levels is concerned, there is the sixth stage. Here, the text, conceived as having, in all its parts, simultaneous existence, is metaphorically connected to another kind of space, through what I have called the "trope of the text." That is, how does the text think of itself? How does it imagine it exists? Does it imagine itself as a history? as a bundle of letters? Is it the sort of spiral of carved forms we find on a triumphal pillar, as Chimera

111

William Gass

Stuttgart Lecture T'W(): Form.

believes? is it a nest of boxes as The Menelaid contrives? or is its action played out ona chess board as it happens in Nabokov's The Defense, For Cortazar's great novel" the trope is the game of hopscotch, or, in Katherine Anne Porter's little story, the text of "The Grave" is a grave. It could be the body of a woman (I resorted to that ruse once ), or tak,e the shape of a tunnel, or be, as often in Beckett, a cell, or in Kafka, sometimes" a cage. Ultimately, ilie novelist must take charge of every lever, order each, and then harmonize the stages with respect to one another, But before any forming can take placed, a further transformation must occur ~ an ontological one. Many of the Symbolist poets were concerned about what they took to be the basically utilitarian character of language" They complained over and over again that their medium was, unlike music, contaminated by all sorts of - to them - irrelevant uses. The novel, in particular, was drafoged down by its OW!:1 facts, by its pedestrian use of language, by its baggy" body, by its endless attention to trivial detail, by its illusory love of ordinary life, Valery pointed out that the prose Writer seems compelled to write banalities like "The Marquis went out at five," and we can turn to ten thousand other examples simply by opening almost any book. Can the poet's word be like morsels of food chewed in every mouth? Rilke always maintained that no word in one of his poems resembled that word in actual use, Language had to be transformed before it could be formed. The first stage in this transformation is the replacement of "life" with language ..I spoke of this at length in my first lecture. Though feeling may be fleeting, its description need not be; though acts and their consequences fade like ripples on a pool, their rendering remains; though people may lead trivial, vulgar, mean-spirited lives, their written history can be significant" beautiful,
and in it the ignoble nob~yput

seems to him the most resembling one. After a time, we notice that: people are keeping these pictures for pleasure, and hanging them, suitably framed, on walls, Their utilitarian qualities have slid from sight to be replaced by contemplative, esthetic ones. If there are writers who cannot. manage this transformation for their language, there are readers who resist these changes. with all the ferocity the bourgeois usually display when their philistine attitudes are' called into question. Finally, a few words about form itself The earliest and perhaps most primitive sense of form - and therefore, from the emotional point of view, very likely the most powerful- is the conception of it as the felt boundary of any inhabited area, an area created by life and its actions. In its statie dimension, such an animistic form is the living edge of any organism. In its dynamic dimension, such a form resembles, say, a hunting territory. It is that region in which the animal feels at home, marking it, perhaps, by urinating on this: rock and that bush, this postand that tree. In short, at Bachelard's animistic level, form is the felt boundary of any inhabited area. Simple realism understands form as the relatively stable containing contour of an object, particularly as it is visually perceived. When we, are thinking of static forms in this connection, then they are the perceived boundaries of areas: a colored area in a painting, for instance. When the dynamic is in question, it is the delimited arena of action. a basketball floor, for instance, one's room in a house. Positivism is the measured outline of objects in Euclidean space, and it is increasingly identified with primary qualities l.ike number, mass, motion, position, and the like. In such a world, there is a sharp division between color and line im painting, or between mass rather than surface in sculpture, and floorplan against facade in architecture. The rationalist's form is,mostly understood .- not felt, not seen, not measured. but known. Fonn is now relational, and what counts is not the shape of an object or its measurements but the relations that object enters essentially into, In complex rationalism, form is discovered to be a function of content, and

Suppose we have hired a person for our police department whose job it is to produce composite drawings of assailants and other sorts of criminals whose persons had not yet been caught but had been glimpsed, From a set of predrawn noses and eyebrows and hairlines and chins. the victim chooses what

112

In

William Gass

content the function of form. Form, that is, becomes the content of the work of rut. What, for the rationalist, were terms to be related, becomes systems of relations themselves. Thisis the level at which most modem literature of any value is written. Surrationalism is the most "advanced" conception, but that does not mean it is more important or that it entirely supplants, the others. The artist must actually form in all ways. form is de-structured. It becomes a kind of formlessness, There is an increasing presence to randomness. The detour becomes the central path. The building realizes its ultimate beauty in decay. But it must be kept in mind that chaos, or chance, is itself governed by

Malcolm Bradbury

Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (2)

laws, and that these laws are as rigorous and prescriptive as any: one has to remember that if one is to be a winner at poker. Process replaces product. The traditional art work disappears, in the theater, the procenium may be lost, the
audience/actor distinction is removed, and the entire identity of the work of art is threatened. The novel's text begins to ooze fronbts ordinary pages and take over the title, the copyright, the publisher's data, the cover, Invisible texts may be invoked. And language takes on a pictorial look, as if it had been painted as, well as sung when it was written. Forming becomes formidable when form is its, own hammer, and must shape the splay of shards its blows have made of the vase it once valued and with love created.

1.
In the last lecture I talked very broadly about the way in which we can think about Postmodernism as a stage in the epochal history ofthe Western arts and into something else, culture - a stage which is probably even now transforming

as we feel our way into a changed history in a coming century. In this talk I want to say something more specific, about the situation and task of the writer in the age of the new media technologies, which have undoubtedly trans-

formed our conceptions of art, of representation, of narrative. William Gass,
in his admirable lecture. has already discussed the way the tendency toward spatialization, synchronicity and derealization, the changed codes of narratives, the fundamentally different attitudes to perception and representation, that we find in the modern and postmodern arts evidently have a good deal to do with the modem media technologies. The transformation that was being brought about by the coming of new technologies into the sphere of the modem arts was something that many of our leading modernist writers have taken very seriously. Famously, James Joyce hoped to become the pan-owner of a Dublin cinema; and the critics are, I think, perfectly right to read filmic methods of presentation, visual collage and wildtrack sound, into his work. John Dos Passes laid out the ground plan of his experimental sequence USA using clear cinematographic codes, like newsreel and the camera eye. The impact ofD.W. Griffith and Eisenstein all

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the modern fundamental Marxists

arts is widely acknowledged, ideas of the Modem

and the fact that silent cinema just around the time some of the were taking shape is, as the on painting, or of serial photo-

War. The complex technologization cess of research and development tural transformation,

of the world, as by an ever evolving procommunications systems of more and more bringing a vast cul-

became available as a popular entertainment

movement

advanced types became desirable consumer commodities, sight and sound world culture, was not in his mind.

used to say, no accident. The point I am making is clear enough

a global simUltaneity of images and styles, a whole new

when we consider the impact of photography

graphy - or filming - on the 'aesthetics of pictorial representation.

But my spe-

Even so, Benjamin's essay remains one of the most remarkable

statements
was simultaof

cial concern here is with the impact of the technological media. - film, and especially television - on our notion of the novel and fictional narrative, and also on our lete modern notions of art, the literary, and the cultural. I'll start from the famous essay where discussion of this topic usually begins: Walter Benjamin's
1936

we have of the way in which the age of mechanical reproduction
reality - an age when, as he said, the new technologies

neously an age of the masses and an age of new types of representation

would adjust the

essay

on "The Work

of Art in the Age

of Mechanical

Reproduction .." This is the essay in which Benjamin teUs us that the modern media - photography say the storytelling and then as it were narrative photography, which is to media of film and television drama - have irrevocably altered the way in which we perceive and respect a work of an, and have like-I,:.

masses to reality and reality to the masses, For, he suggests, the mechanical media were now in process of taking over the task of mimesis, representation, and repor-tage. Their distinctive codes, technologies and production techniques would change all perception of the subject represented, while at the
same time these methods, being technologies rather than arts, would disestabart itself, taking away the history,

lish, deconstruct, the "aura" of the work of
and the mystery, of the saw it as concurrent methods
art

wise changed the way in which the modem artwork

approaches

and con-

already in existence. He the shifts that were changing and dethroning

structs the reaiity which can be thought to be its prime subject. Benjamin's essay has always struck me as remarkably prescient, for he wrote

Benjamin took a highly epochal view of this very modem transformation. with other fundamental of film techwhole map and nature of the arts, and. transforming

at a nearly and

it could be said primitive stage in the evolution

their very

nologies - at a time' when the "movies" had only recently moved from the age

of silent cinema to the age of sound (a process he was inclined to deplore) and when, in consequence, most of the discussion about film concentrated on it as
a visual, not a verbal, medium. Many of the other fundamental nologies, world-wide and the systems, studios and state organizations household-based technology
which brought

media. techthat

of representation, just as the .modern and revolutionary twentieth century was born. "Around 1900 mechanical. reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change i.ntheir reception by the public; it had
also captured Mechanical a place of its own among the artistic processes," he wrote. reproduction, by producing infinite copies of scarce and venerated But mechanical repro-

that went along

with them, had simply not yet developed. The great television revolution,

into the bars and the

objects, demystified them, popularized them, constructed a great new imagery museum of once rare styles and cultural commodities. duction was also becoming the revolutionary
!Ii

livingrooms of daily life a radical window onto the news, the follies, the dreams, the customs and the crises of the world at large, and turned far distant
dramas - the Coming Down of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War - into immediate and strangely domesticated events, had not been conceived, except by the science fiction writers, and would really only matter after the Second World

creative mechanism on its own account, part of

new artistic pantheon. And he quotes Paul Valery: "For the

last twenty years neither marter nor space nor time has been what it was from

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time immemorial.

We must expect great innovations

to transform

the entire

anxieties (Benjamin may have believed film could lead to the "aestheticizatiQa of politics," theoretical but he also believed in the arts) continue Marxist into modem debate; on There was not only his impact on the Frankfurt Scbool, on Adorno,

technique of the arts." The most famous part of his argument was the definition of the loss of art's traditional reproduction generalize "aura." As he puts it, "that which withers in the age of mechanical is the aura of the work of art." This is, he tells us, a symptomatic

th.e
that

analysis of popular culture. His general implication discussion of postmodemism itself

film is the

key art form of an age of general demystifieation

has had great in-

process whose significance goes far beyond the realm. of art itself "One might

fluence on contemporary Introductionto modem challenges

by saying: the technique of reproduction

detaches

the reproduced substiidiosynand ideas

So, as Steven Connor puts it in his recent book Postmodernist Culture: An Theories of the Contemporary (1989), Benjamin's an intimation of the progressive aligning it in various central esof and culsay "offers simultaneously technology, of modernist possibilities

object from the domain of tradition. By making many reprodectionsir tutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence." cratic Marxist, Benjamin took a "progressive'lview popularizing process, and he distrusted of "genius," "creativity," of As a somewhat

of this demystifying aesthetic

ways with the experiments

as "Fascist" traditional

art, and a structure for defining thepostmodem media" that Benjamin

"mystery" and "eternal value." Indeed he celebrated

tural universe," For today, of course, we live in an age dominated folded within those "mechanical "unconscious optics" and "auraless" arts. The balance of relationship

by and enbetween

silent cinema as a 'progressive political medium, and his distrust of the coming

looks at, an age of

the sound track to cinema was because it restored.language,

and hence narevolutionary

tionalism, and hence fascism, and hence war, to an international two technologies, one of visual recording

the historical or indeed the avant-garde has changed fundamentally has acquired

high arts and the media technologies

force. At the same time he recognized that the fact that film was now based on and one of sound, meant that it no longer a naive artmust inevitably become a form of modem capitalism, form but an expensive commodity discussion

since Benjamin wrote; the visual or cinematic sign extraordinary new power, and not solely through an artistic
one. The Gutenberg culture.

evolution but through a continuous technological

and a basis for twentieth century business.

the culture of print, has in many respects given way to the Edison aitd Baird culture of film, television and more recently video; the impact of film as a way of "derealizing" reality, which Benjamin reflects on in a coda where he notes (for instance, by making war "an who suggests that film provides that one risk of film is that it becomes the mechanism of a culture aestheticizins its own unreality or its own destruction aesthetic pleasure This has been taken up by Jean Baudrillard, the embrace of the image-based, of the first order"), bas become a matter of recognition, simulatory hyper-reality within which we are

But per-naps the most interesting part of Benjamin's essay for us now is its of the impact that film had made on modern codes of representaa visual form of narrative, as most filmranima means of collecting and representing does to unconscious tion. He saw film as pre-eminently makers still do, and predominantly dom and unexpected duces us to unconscious pulses," Film substitutes

signs: as he said in a famous phrase, "The camera introoptics as psychoanalysis its own lens for the method of aesthetic analysis, and

is in that sense artless, or naive. In the process, however, it begins to construct itself as a modem, an "auraless," and of course a popular form of art, creating its own codes and values and its own sense of reality" Benjamin wrot.e in a. distinctive period both in the evolution of modem film and ill the evolution of the modern mass state; nonetheless many of his arguments and his implied

all coming to live ("the very definition of the real has become: that of which it

is possible to give an equivalent reproduction"),
In contemporary discussion of our "postmodern condition," this looking imagiback and forth between the notion of art's historic "aura" and the age of virtual reality, of parodic style, of a life of simulacra lived in a depthless

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nary museum forged for us by the mechanical media, has been a central theme, To quote Connor again: "_""the possibility of making multiple reproductions of any given work: suggests, to Benjamin a threat to the "aura" of the work of art" that is to say, our sense of its uniqueness in space and time, with the associated sense of its absolute permanence and transcendent difference from the material world," But what Benjamin discounts. he says, is "the capacity of modern cinema itself to create and sustain artistic aura, or myths of aura. n Benjamin is thinking of a modernist world, but what he says applies to the world to follow, Says Connor, "As in other areas of contemporary culture, the collapse of the modernist ideology of style _"'brings with it a culture of multi'pie styles, which are combined, set against each other, rotated and regenerated in a furious polyphony of decontextualized voices. This brings about a flattening of the sense of historical origins, so that what are circulated in this art are not only stylistlc individualities, but also dislocated tristories," The age dominated by mechanical reproduction is the age of authorlessness, auralessness, depthlessness, unconscious optics; it is also the age of the aestheticization of politics, the era of simulacra, the culture of polyphony. Connor is not the only critic to see a close identity between changing modem technologies of representation, growing ever more sophisticated, and what we ate now generally ready to call the "postmodern condition," Fredric Jameson, another Marxist critic, in his book Postmodernism (1991), links the visual media, especially MTV, with the historylessness, the depthlessness, the unreal or parodic state of contemporary late capitalist culture. And David Harvey, in The Condition of Postmodemity, suggests precisely that what has added the postmodern dimension to the age of fi[m is the advent of television, where the viewer is positioned as someone who shares the serial medium's "own perception of history as an endless reserve of equal events," television being the first medium "to present the artistic achievements of the past as a stitched-together collage of equi-importarit and simultaneously existing phenomena, largely divorced from geography and material history and transported into the living rooms and studios of the West in a more or less uninterrupted

flow." More recently Jean Baudrillard's comments on the anaesthetic coverage by the television media of the events of the Gulf War, and the incorporation of the framed and imaged version of the real into ordinary lives, have suggested that the technologized vision has become a universal postmodern substitute for reality • and that what is therefore lost is not simply aesthetic aura or mystery, 'but the traditional sense of the real itself, in all its humanization and depth. The world of fibre optics and satellite links, of extra-terrestrial tv systems and integrated technologies that allow for combinations of television and telephone, cornputerscreen and tv screen, interactive television and so on, has made the semiotics of the world about which Benjamin was writing vastly more complex and far more enfolding. Today the writer may choose in some fundamental fashion to acknowledge this. John Barth has his novel Giles Goat-Boy written by two computers, and his Lost in the Funhouse is "fiction for print, tape, live voice" A few years ago, Marshall McLuhan proposed the end. of the Gutenberg era, the disappearance of the book, the replacement of written and verbal narrative by visual narrative. This is not what has happened; the book has somehow reconstructed its late modem place on the shelf beside the handily abundant style commodities of current culture: the video, the CD, the cassette tape. But no-one would now deny that Benjamin is right to say that the media of mechanical reproduction nave affected our concepts of representation, and! reality; that in some sense there has been a loss of art's "aura," a loss as manifest in contemporary literary theory as it is in the public realm; that in contemporary culture the concept of the cultural and the literary is itself constantly vulnerable; and that the novelist. the user of what is now an historic form of representation transmitted to the public through an historical technology (print), has in various ways had to come to terms with the task of writing, and defending writing, in the age of advanced mechanical reproduction, What follows now are a few personal reflections on that process, by a writer of novels who has also ventured frequently across the fence into the world of the visual media, the world of the technological postmodern, or at

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least into the writing of British television drama, and returned

to tell the

nanty or aura. has usually therefore been attached not to the writer but the

di-

auraless tale.
2.
Ever since the coming of the movies, and certainly ever since the coming of

rector, the "auteur" of the movie, the perceived creator of its action, concept and image; indeed the director very often became the author of the screenplay as well. Hollywood has not, in any literary sense, been a writers' theatre, for all the well-known writers who have been hired, and for all that many of the

the sound. age, whose new and disturbing presence Benjamin's essay signals,
writers have moved in often horrified fascination between the world of books and the world of'film and television. From the Hollywood era of the Thirties, when it was discovered that if the movies needed a dialogue script they also needed a writer, the difficult trade has gone screenwriters
011,.

works it produces originally have a "literary" source, ina previous novel or a play. Hollywood is a business system in which the screenplay is an instrumental element for raising funding, securing casting, guiding the budget, and identifying a common basis of instruction for a project in which Benjamin's "unconscious optics" ally with clicheed conventions about what constitutes the basis for box-office success. Though American writers of fiction, including the most experimental, are frequently deeply obsessed with the visual media - see, for example, Robert Coover's NIghts at the Movies, or Donald Barthelme's Snow White - they are rarely to be found as its creators, and those that have tried still come back with troubled and angry reports. Artbur Miller, tile leading American playwright, and author of several successful screenplays. recently wrote for Hollywood the deeply unsuccessful Everybody Wins - a project on which, it "Among 'real' writers .- novelists, seems, everybody lost. In publishing the screenplay in book form, Miller reflected very sombrely on the experience. playwrights, poets - screen-writing,
011

and many of the early - play-

were figures of some established literary distinction

wrights like Clifford Odets, modernist novelists like William Faulkner; chosen, perhaps, because they would acid "aura," a sense of literary distinction, to the work in question. The record was not generally happy. Faulkner, in Hollywood in the 193,05, found the gratifications of the movies were rarely creative,

usually liquid or financial. Scott Fitzgerald, caught in Hollywood in his failing
years, produced his best work there not in the form of screenplays but in that of an uncompleted book about Hollywood,

The Last Tycoon; much the-same

could be said of Nathanael

West Historically writers who have entered the

film world have come back with poor reports - of contempt for writers, domination by business and the box office, work so misused or.so undistinguished

when it is not regarded as a cousin of en-

it was unworthy of a literary credit. At the same time, as the examples of
Fitzgerald gratification and West indicate, some symbiosis occurred. If you didn't get out of writing a screenplay, you got a novel about the obsessive

gineering, is seen

a par with clothing design; the product has no life of its

own until it is occupied by the wearer..," he observes, "The screenplay is the first element in a collaborative art, but only an element for aH that, and not like a stage-play, a thing in itself." But Miller adds, more critically, that cinema is a primitive form of image-making,

world of styles, images and fantasies which is Hollywood itself. In general, the history of screenwriting in Hollywood has been one in which the task has passed to professional, within Hollywood conventions, reputations, trained screenwriters working firmly rather than to writers who had made careers,

creating or encouraging passivity in its audiof

ence (a point not unlike that made by Benjamin). "Before a play we are forced to do the chores of editing, of deciding what is more or less important, shifting our attention from actor to actor on the stage. In reading a text we have to d!@(:jde and! sometimes puzzle out what the words themselves mean. At the movies we decide nothing, our treasured infantile Inertia is barely

styles and forms elsewhere. At the Same time the general notion

of fil:m has been founded on the culture of visual narrative, rather than, as in theatre, on the verbal drama of the script. In film theory, the search for origi-

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nudged .... " Miller's disappointment

is not only with the production

system, but so-

writer who had become notable in one of the 'literary' genres - the novel, stage drama, poetry - to make television drama part of his oeuvre. One reason for this was the establishment of television drama theatres - the Wednesday Playhouse, Play, and so on - where a writer could present a single play. But televiever more used to a work that is shown continuously. The

with the nature of the medium itself; it is, he concludes, no place for the serious writer. John Barth said earlier, I believe, that film is technologically phisticated, instrument, and narratively simple; and that, generally speaking, is true. a genre of discovery that took its place with the experimental either culture itself. Holly-

And so the writers who dreamed of making cinema into a. new modernist novel or the experimental play, have frequently come back disillusioned. 'by the movie system, or the technology and reproductive wood never became a writers and remembered tion evolved

sion is essentially a serial medium which depends on its seriality, on its. audience growing single play bas scarcely survived into the age of seriality, channel switching and high production costs, but the serial has, and. so far that too has remained something of a writers' theatre, where the name of the author - Dennis Potter, Alan Bleasdale - and the idiosyncratic character of his or her work has much to do with the work's reputation and success. It is, of course, possible to argue that in the postmodem "literariness," contemporary "art," "originality," age all the elements "seriousness," of the of that these writers seem to 'be trying to protect - ..authorship,"

theatre, and some would say that was actually

the reason for its global success; it never sought too much of the aura of art, it was an assembly-line business. In other cultures, the tradidifferently, and offered greater opportunities to writers. In

France Cocteau was able to make films of his own; in Britain Graham Greene wrote original screenplays, for The Third Man, for insltance, which are recognizably apart of his literary oeuvre, and Harold Pinter, often with American financing; was able to work on scripts, frequently complex adaptations, are recognizably television, of great literary as well as filmic distinction. which took on different forms and established which The advent of

IU'Idthese things as the guarantee

"aura" or wholeness of the work - are themselves eroded by the processes ofDeconstructive

culture. In the age of Roland Barthes' Death of the Author, and theory, all of these elements are, of course, contested. space.

different creative

Yet despite all this most of those who do work seriously in the pre-filmic genres - stage drama, the novel, poetry - do write with a sense of their own authorial identity and subjectivity, and regard their work as a discovering performed act
by

cultures in different countries, showed the same variety. American television drama, after a brief spell of originality with writers like Paddy Chayevsky, largely followed the Hollywood pattern of formulaic and repetitious sold as commodities. creation, and endlessly recycled dramatic types represented as packages and transmitted

by a single originating mind. In assuming this, they are aided
of production. For these ere not in Arthur Miller's arts .." In the case of fiction and poetry, their collaboration and the authority of the single playwright

their means "collaborative depends

sense is, via As

Few serious writers in America would think of writing

for television, and I am told that in Gennany the same thing is largely true.
In Britain, on the other hand, perhaps because it was rooted in a tradition not of commercial activity but of public service broadcasting, lisheda writers' theatre which has consistently attracted television estabmajor writers from and well-known for a.

print, for the reader only; theatre is collaborative on the authorship

to a degree, but generally

Miner says, film uses its script in a different way, as a device for capitalizing and organizing a massive commercial product in which the writer is, for aJI the high financial rewards, a highly local and sometimes even unacknowledged ingredient It perhaps still remains to be seen whether there is an ultimate and universal truth in Benjamin's striking phrase that "that which withers in the .age of me-

other fields, including Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Frederic Raphael, Simon Raven and Ian McEwan, and cultivated the careers of distinguished television dramatists like Dennis Potter and Alan Bleasdale who made television drama their speciality. It became possible, indeed commonplace,

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chanical reproduction

is the work of art. " Hollywood has indeed gone furthest

formed by complex creative impulses, which lead me into the making of discovering, self-constructing, imaginary worlds. The essential instrument I use is my language, and it is at its primary level a verbal language; my working .tool is the written word. I am conscious of the variety of signs, the multiplicity of significations, the slippage and sloppage, that inhers in or adhers to language, but I see my work as intentional rather than random. I am a. writer of the age of the book, and I believe in the book as a complex power. It has been said that if the match had been invented after the cigarette lighter, people would have said it: was an improvement.

down the road that Benjamin describes, making a popular, formulaic mode of visual narrative, based on repetitious codes, proven myths, and deeply encoded writing methods. Indeed far from being a medium generating high originality it is a cornerstone of convention, a convention frequently disguised

by the changing technology of filmic representation - new lens and sound systems, special effects. Its methods show signs of becoming universal to all filmmaking, as national audiences for national cinema wither, as film and television increasingly interpenetrate, and Hollywood becomes film-maker and tv-maker for the reception technologies of the world, if only because of its domination of the distribution marketplace. Yet even so the imprint of the "literary" remains upon it - in the literary sources from which many of its stories still come, and the demands of a medium that, for all its visual foundation, still has its roots in human drama and in the, working, of dialogue and written/spoken language. At the same time, though the novel and drama have assimilated much from film and television, they have managed to retain a degree of distinctive narrative and investigative identity. In what follows, 1 want to explore a little some of the problems of a "literary" writer who has been frequently and often excitingly drawn into the world of "mechanical reproduction."

I feel much the same about the fUm and the book. The film is a dramatic form of'the imagination, but it is also a single enactment, a localinterpretetion, In the great movie theatre of the book. the
images that in film are performed and stabilized are left loose in tile intimate relation that the book constructs between the writer and the reader, the writer who is free to stimulate, the reader who is free subjectively to respond. The task of the novelist and the task of the film or television writer have

much in common; they also have fundamental differences. Let me try to put it
simply and anecdotally. As a novelist, my working day develops like this. I rise in the morning, have breakfast, and go to my study, where my modem literary technology is waiting - several typewriters, a word processor, a telephone, and a substantial and rather old-fashioned library. I sit down at. my word processor, switch on, and at once enter a kind of'imaginative solitude. If someone comes to the door 1 fail to hear; if the telephone rings, it is probably

3.
When I think about myself as a writer, I think about myself as first and foremost a novelist. I write at the end of the twentieth century, in a technological world. I am aware of the deep transformations, actual and theoretic, that have taken place to the concept and the fact of authorship, and to the reception of the novel. At the same time I still consider the novel to be the most honest, direct, intimate and discovering form of expression I know, a profound narrative. I believe in myself as the originator of something distinctive,

a double-glazing salesman, and I deal with it quickly, and return to the better world of my writing. 1 regard imaginative writing as an enormous pleasure, and I will write for hours, through the day and into the night. The book comes, or it does not. Each morning I return to it, refine it, rewrite and re-edit 'it, until one day, probably after several years, I feel it is done. Or perhaps my wife comes at last and takes it away from me, sending it off to the publisher, who will, about nine months later, publish it. Publication is the worst moment in the writing of novels; not only has one lost an entire imaginary world, but that world now becomes the preserve of the critics, famous for

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misunderstanding (or creatively misreading, as they say) almost everything. But there is the book, on the printed page, and that printed page passes before the reader, who then, in acollaborative common satisfaction of us both. Let me compare with this another day, when I am writing a drama series for television. I get up in the morning, go to my desk, switch on, and begin to write, according to a very clear code. I type "111," which is how you start oft' a tv script, and then I write let's, say, "INT." meaning an interior scene, and then "MON REPOS, STUTIGART DAY,II' As I do this, I know this will mean that one day a few months from now a gang of around eighty people wi!! arrive in Stuttgart in ten trucks, find and enter the room I am describing and try to recreate what I am imagining - perhaps an international audience of people listening to a lecture by a famous American postmodern novelist. I had better describe how the tables are put out, whether the sun shines or the rain rains, how many people are in the room. and how they are dressed. Around now the telephone starts to ring, and it is not a double glazing salesman, "This is Fiona. (it's always Fiona), I'm doing your locations. I've found this really great beach in the Seychelles" ... I say: "Just a minute, Fiona, this story is set " in a conference hotel near Stuttgart in Germany." "Can't you just consider the Seychelles?" asks Fiona, who regards herself
8!S

of the plane, though in economy. By that time I will have discussed the imaginary world with around fifty talented and impatient people, all wanting their piece of the action - directors and actors, designers and period. experts, producersand budget managers, and possibly the entire European Commission.
CaSt

relationship, sits down with it, re-

places my own fantasies with a version of their own fantasies, I hope to the

Feminists will ask questions about the casting, Pornographers and anti-pornographers will argue about the sexual representation. The will tell everyone what the story is about, and make it sound quite different from the work with which I started. But then it is a quite different work from which I started, precisely because so many talented, determined, self-constructing people have been involved with it For all these people and their skills, their ambitions, their intentions, their agendas, the script is written. And rewritten. And rewritten, and rewritten, For if a novel is an imaginary world staged in the minds of writers and readers, a television script is a complex set of instructions designed to set a large number of people, a large number of ideas, a large sum of money, a large fantasy of success. loose on the world. At the same time the word of the writer retains a peculiar power, as I found rather dismally when I adapted my
OWn

novel Rates of Exchange as a live part drama series for the BBe It is not

easy to adapt your own work, because the process of adaptation depends on a complex revisualization of all the signs, and you know your own too well to find effective substiturea Nonetheless a script was written, cast, rehearsed, and sent on location - to Turkey, the country which was to stand in for my imaginary EasternEuropean country of Slaka, Then, on the Friday before the actual shooting ("principal photography") began, I had a phone-call from the BBC in London, to tell me the project had been cancelled, and everyone was flying home. I asked why; it had gone quarter of a million pounds over budget It was then I realized that if I had just Written one word differently, the entire project would have been made, two years of my life would have been made worthwhile, the careers of many, many actors and crew would have been saved from a summer of disaster. I had written the word "tram," and there are no trams in Turkey; they had added a three week shoot in Milan to film some

a serious collaborator 011 the

project. One of us gives way; Fiona flies off to Stuttgart, or I write INT. HYATT REGENCY. SEYCHELLES. No sooner have I done this than the phone rings again, and it's someone called Tom. "You don't know me yet," says Tom, "But I do 1972, and I gather you've got 1972 in your plot" "They changed it yesterday, Tom," I say, "Now it's 1982," "Pity; that's Dick," says Tom, ringing off. So it goes on. A television script is not constructed as a solitary imagined world. Like film.• it is a collaborative medium. As I say, in Britain it is one where the writer counts, which means to say that when the cast flies of business cast to Stuttgart in the autumn, you'll probably find me there at the back

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scenes on a tram. If I'd been there, if they had trusted me more, someone television else, would have crossed out "tram," and written

or less, I, or

contraceptives written

derived

from i1i script of mine. If I had stayed

at home,

and

"bus." Maybe in

a novel,

none of these strange things would have happened, a wonder,

or rather

drama you can respect the writer too much.

they would have stayed closely folded within the pages of a book. There is a pleasure in being a writer for television, of a kind, in being. a writer

To put that another way. a television script is a piece of writing where every
sign has a different function from that in a novel. It assigns a task, it stands for something reality, ages, else, it has to be paid for. In a novel. trams are free; I the writer, trams become enacted enacted scenes. you the reader, create them between us. In television, words become a wonderland

in the age of mechanical reproduction.

deeds.

sexual fantasies become sound. Receded

Then

4.
Let me now return again to Benjamin's in the age of mechanical surrounding reproduction

the enacted

reality' dissolves,

to become a sign system: a chaos of filmic imand receded,

of recorded

again and

striking phrase - "that which withers
is the aura of the work of art." Benin which the entire "aura" about the way in

again, hundreds of new languages are imprinted on the product. It is seen and
re-seen, read and re-read,

by

interpretative

experts, world class semioticians, of their own dis-

jamin is talking here of a general cultural condition art is, put into question;

for whom the "unconscious may disappear first sign-maker, altogether, disappears

optics" become the mechanism

1 have been talking

tinctive art or skill. The dialogue which was the precious source of the story in a dub. The narrative order so perfectly :made calli into a world of ever more complex signs - until at

which" in my own cultural circumstances, the distinctive vice institution, library system. first functioning service closed history of television comparable Moreover, television because services,

it is possible to be both a "literary"

writer and a writer for t.elevision. As I have said, this has something to do with in Britain, where tv has been a public seror the directly British television was one of the world's of drama to the British Council or the universities

be disputed, as someone discovers a different logic of ending. The writer, the
last a result is agreed, the

film

is screened,

the work has its glimpse of fame.

For a day perhaps it is remembered,

until another story, on another day, takes

it

derived

its notions

its place, There is no going back; it has been and gone; you cannot tum the pages back, recheck the text, see how the end was prepared It is not a book, What, then, is the satisfaction yet profoundly transient of the writer in this complex, deeply semiotic, Sometimes, when the great collaboration process? in the beginning.

from theatre and from the radio play. During the wartime years, the television

down, but for several years after the war when it resumed
remained a single channel service, provided by the HBC. It had

functioning

it

no advertising, commercial standards,"

no competition.

and no commercial

aims; you either watched

it, if you could afford a set and the licence fee, or you did not. And even when television and produce began, they had to sustain what were called "quality a body of serious drama in order to retain their fransurvives, and much of the British television - famous adaptations of Evelyn drama origi-

has turned into a Balkan dispute, there is none. Sometimes, that have come together, so much to the original sum that the result is extraordinary, great. deal. I have bad the misfortune simulated of course,

when the talents
there is a very college,

the Fionas and the Toms and the Dicks, have added of losing two years 'by writing "tram" ina well-known actor eaten

chise to broadcast
To this day that tradition that we see today worldwide

stead of "bus," but. the joy of seeing a whole medieval Cambridge blown up on my instructions,

Waugh's

Brideshead Revisited or Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown, important
nal plays

by a lion, and the sky of East Anglia filled with thousands

of floating inflated

by

Dennis Potter or Harold Pinter or Alan Bennett

- arise from this

130

131

Malcolm Bradbury

Postm~ntism,the

Novel, and the TV Medium (2)

particular depends

television culture. Much of this work is literary in the sense that it
011

its authorial originality, and is not coded according to familiar ge-

wrote were for a consortium of European television companies, and they were designed to be shown in several languages. One of the effects of multi-national television is to return us ever closer to the world as described by Walter Benjamin. Benjamin saw film as a pictographic language, like Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which, through the advent of sound, the nationalism of language had been added, The movement international largely
II

neric ~ypes. The writer who is favoured w:ith the chance to write for British television therefore enjoys many of the freedoms he or ,she might enjoy in the writing of a novel or a play for the National Theatre, an intrinsic freedom of expression The tradition has also to some degree been secured by the devoto television of major works of fiction, like, for instance, tion of British television to what is called "the classic serial," that is to say the regular adaptation Charles Dickens's Bleak House. The system is, or has been, distinctive, and, as a title like "classic serial" suggests, it means that a good deal of what Benjamin calls "aura," or a conception survived in British tv, constituting tions. As I have said, one consequence who is conducting of this is that it i~:' very likely that anyone is a serious literary career, as a novelist or playwright, of selective cultural or artistic value, has

toward

television increases the need for this pictographic

view of televithrough with the of a solu-

sion .. In being, as I've said, a writers' theatre, British television has also been dialogue theatre, in which the dramatic action is structured Multi-national television, confronted speech and spoken interaction,

problem that language is what most limits the circulation and transmission knows what a car chase is)- which is, in a sense, the classic Hollywood tion to providing the international drama in which it dominates. So a new era in the development

a tradition of drama with literary associa-

film, is ever more likely to move in the direction of the action movie (everyone

of television as a medium for drama is now

likely at some time to' have an involvement with television drama - and. in doing that, enter a tradition in part shaped by a classic idea of drama. This is to some degree the product of the cultural separation of distinctive national television systems, and there is no doubt that in the coming stage of new television technology frontiers, and organization this process will be chal1enged. The change The public service has already begun; in the era of the free market and the opening of European British television is already being reformed, television demands on tbe independent companies are being reduced; by 1995

in process of emerging. From the writers' point of view, there are many problems, The breaking down of national television systems is no doubt a crucial stage in the breaking down of provincialisms, regionalisms, tribalisms, chauvinisms; yet it is on some degree of local or regional or national identity, and certainly on the complexity and variety of one's own language, that the writer generally draws for his or her material Film, as a modernist or postmodernist medium, has largely dlepended on its pictographic code. It seems likely in the future that television drama will approximate ever more closely to the condition of film, This nn turn means that it will grow ever more expensive to produce, ever more dependent on large-sized audiences, ever more drawn toward familiar filmic convention. 111 this process its "literary" texture is very likely to diminish, and it may well be that the intimate relationship between the novelist and the television theatre that I have been celebrating in this talk will not last for very much longer, that the clay I have been describing is done, If that is so, British writers may very well find that in proportion their work seriously, they will concentrate as they take on the novel instead of on televi-

it is very possible the BBC will lose its funding through a licence fee, and further channels will be added to' the system, Cable television and subscription satellite television already exist, without the same cultural demands made on them, Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, exercise). the leakage of television transmission across national borders is growing more common (this, of course, had enormous political effects for television leakage makes state control ever harder to' in Europe, international co-production; indeed. the last two television series I So is the positive attempt to construct,

television programming,

132

133

Malcolm Brndbury

sian or film, preferring what I think isa more complex and individuated medium to the "collaborative art," and the ultimate naivete of the camera. But the story does. not end there. Benjamin's essay seems to imply that there is no escaping the age of mechanical reproduction, even if the arts attempt a modernist dissent from it, and in an obvious sense I think he is right. There are few modern or postmodem writers of the novel who do not in my view show the imprint of'filmic techniques. Joyce wanted to keep II! cinetna, Dos Passes' USA is imprinted with the techniques of Eisenstein's mode of film. Most novels today are afIected,in their ideas of narrative, pace, motif and subject matter by the imagery and narrative methods of film. If late modem novels are paced differently, narrated differently, and angled differently, that has much to do with film, which has become an underlying analogy for the making of much of modem art. Lat~ 19th century fiction was dominated by the painterly analogy, the comparisons made by writers between the aestlletic possibilities of their medium and the new painting - Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Cubist - of the day. Late modem fiction, the fiction of Don DeLillo or Martin Amis or Ian McEwan, is dominated by the filmic analogy, the analogy between fictional narrative, perspective and pace and like things in film. This often means that their books readily make into films, which has its commercial satisfactions; but that does not seem to me to be the essential reason .. The fact is that film has indeed changed all our narratives, transformed our aesthetic coding of reality; and that is indeed part of our "postmodern" condition, which will continue. For Benjamin was right; we are indeed [eft to try to construct the work of art
in the late age of mechanical reproduction.

Ihab Hassan

"Let the Fresh Air In: Critical Perspectives on the Humanities"

The human mind is headlong and prefigurative. It is also implacably recursive, going back to recover loose and knotted threads of every kind. Now, in this seminar, we, the fellows and so-called faculty have SplJD enough threads, knots" and tapestries to bedizen the walls of Versailles, Schonbrunn, Nymphenburg, Windsor Castle, and (yes, why not?) Monrepos. How untangle this web and weave of ideas? How follow a thread to the semblance of an inconclusion? It's a matter of decision, choices, contingencies - these shade into one another. The decision I had made when I wrote my first lecture was to take seriouslythe title of the Stuttgart Seminar: to wit, "The End of Postmodernism" , and especially its brash subtitle: "New Directions" - to take both title and subtitle seriously. I then proposed in my fist lecture two linked hypotheses: First: That as postmodernism consumes itself in doubts and ironies, ashes and aporias, it may rise in brigbt new shapes: for instance, philosophical pragmatism and practical pluralism, both genial to a democratic praxis. Second: That as different nations, cultures, races, languages begin to jostle in the same interactive space we will need to define new concepts of travel, new practices of translation, new modes of influence and self-exposure, But this may strike you as a little abstract ..So let me quickly retell the story of Babel. For Babel too had its epochs, let us say of 33 years each. Phase i. Premodern Babel: all pride thrusting at the sky, utopian unity imposed OD all life, totality by whatever name, Pharaonic Marxism.

134

lhabHassan

"Let the Fresh Air In:CrilicaJ Perspectives on the Humanities"

Phase 2, Phase 3.

Modern Babel: break up and a chaos oftongues, Postmodem Babel: this is Roland Barthes' of exuberance in fragments, Babel, or Babel

the center can

not hold, glory in experiment and nostalgia for unity. "Babel heureuse," the avoidance of (happy Babel), the pretense Phase 4. Postmodernism, Post-Stuttgart
n

quieting, and absurd. I will concentrate for the moment on the absurd because it is more vivid, and easiest to instance,

P. C. requires us to refer to pets not as pets but "animal companions."
P.e. dismisses many great or canonical writers, from Homer to Beckett, as DWEMs: Dead White European Males. P.C. refers to Newton's law as Newton's Rape Laws because they are Laws of male force. P.C. avoids the term ace of spade in card games because it may be offensive to blacks (spade as slang for blacks). P.e.alludes to standard English as the language of imperialism and killers. P.C. legislates "sensitivity", censors not only prejudice but laughter itself _ [ quote from a university manuscript: exclusionof "inappropriate laughter and conspicuous quite rightly so but

nostalgia - or rather, the feigned avoidance of it. after Ziegler: "The End of media"New Directions", or what's next? In this hybrid, pragmatic

Babel, I have suggested, different

there will be teams of travelers, translators, orders, of discourse, There

tors -indeed, everyone will be a traveler, translator, mediator, moving between idioms, beliefs, prejudices, may even

emerge a new version of European pluralism.
Now, I tell you this story not to perpetrate another allegory of linear time. I tell it, rather, to summarize in the form of anecdotal 'inyth an argument J have made, and others here have made, about the topic of this :seminar. So much for the recursive part of my introduction, the retrospective part. be anNow for what I call the Zed Factor (Zed for Ziegler): I mean "New Directions", the future. What new directions? The question, again, cannot swered abstractly by terms like travel and translation. pragmatism and plural-

a student from conversation

are punishable offences."
a

P.C. condemns not only racism, sexism, imperialism. also Abilism, Lookism, and Individualism. correctness; they are rife on American campusses,

These instances, absurd as they may seem, are not isolated gems of political More to the point, they suggest a social and intellectual climate which imperils democratic institutions. Now - and this is a crucial point - some of you may think that the situation I Eastern. to your Own situation in Western, and especially in I beseech you in the bowels of Christ - or the bowels of Marx. Freud, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Derrida - J beseech you anyway describe is irrelevant Europe. as irrelevant. Conformity, if empowered to orthodoxy, do
SQ,

ism. Some writers, here have tried, to speculate on concrete literary forms adequate to a world of shifting, blurring borders, a world of museums without

walls and walls in museums. Let the term (Gass) "operatic realism" stand for
such a literary form. But I want to approach the question of new directions (the Zed Factor) from another perspective. I want to let the fresh air in the university, in our intellecan oppressive

not to dismiss the phenomenon sion can come from thought.whatever ship is contagious,

represIlliberal

any direction,

tual culture. For some time now, theory and ideology in American universities.
and to a lesser extent in British universi:ties, have produced orthodoxy, the orthodoxy of'P, C. or political correctness.
!lQW

Virtue (capitalized)

it may invoke, remains illiberal. No

utopian goal, however noble its end, justifies repressive means, And censora creeping disease. Surely this is the lesson that Eastern Europe has taught the world, and a lesson that it can not afford now to forget.

Conceived first in free

the name of pluralism,

multi-culturalism,

social justice, theory and ideology pluralism itself, threatens

have created a climate which threatens

speech and intellectual liberty. The evidence of this illiberalism is various, dis-

136

137

IhabHassan

"Let the Fresh Air In:

Cri tical Penpectives
dispensation

on the Humanities"

But that. of course, is something you yourselves

must decide. In any case,

granted

the Left a permanent

on progress.

Yet both Left and voters,intellectual

my own discourse has begun to' degenerate into an ill-humoured harangue. It's time I turned to my text, time I letsome fresh air 'On myself.

Right continue to act out their private psychodramas rily, murderously,

while history goes mer-

its way. I dare say" only independent

nomads, cussed artists, have an inkling of what it's all about Only those who seem now a little "confused" - who do [lot wear their morality on their sleeve,

II.
I begin with a short poem a propos of nothing except to remind myself that language can be good. Throughout poetry in remembrance my talk, I may read gratuitous snatches of of verbal glory.

their ideology on their blouse or lapel - will have a chance to enter the next millenium with clarity. AIl this bears on the way we teach, write, think, the way we see our world. Consider further that world (I enjoin specially those who pay lip service to History). It is a world planetized and tribalized, globalized and localized, wholes and fragments jostling everywhere. It is also a time of seismic realign-

Lawn as white as driven snow; Cyprus black as e'er was crow; Gloves as sweet as damask roses; Masks for faces and for noses; Bugle-bracelet, necklace-amber; Perfume for a lady's chamber; Golden quoifs and stomachers, For my lads to give their dears; Pins and poking-sticks of steel; What maids lack from head to beel: Come buy of me, come; come buy, come buy ... I want first to consider the geopolitical some general proposals, climate 'Of our discourse, Next, I will I end with for graduate studies in the

ment, a space now terribly, now exuberantly interactive. in Tiananmen itself to a new Samuelson's

The busts of Lenin

topple in the squares of Eastern Europe; tne Statue of Liberty raises her torch Square; the Italian Communist Party, largest in Europe, treats

flag and a new name. The Soviet Empire dissolves into the
Economics, and says: "We keep it on our gets out of his jeans long enough has been born in Europe,

Asian air. The Prime Minister of Vietnam, Do Muoi, avidly studies Paul standard textbook, night tables for bedtime reading." The Berlin WaJ] crumbles into souvenirs. The playwright President of Czechoslovakia threatened by a catastrophe. and twice you Americans, wins the Nobel Peace Prize .. Nearly everywhere, Western academics, Marxism-leninism (the most lethal quest for social justice the world has known) recedes or collapses. Yet some, mostly cossetted addicted to fables and fiascos, have not yet "heard tbe news is that we live in a postmodern our universe is both news today, oh boy." The inconvenient to address the U.S. Congress thus: "Twice in this century the world has been Twice this catastrophe along with others,

briefly review aspects of theory and ideology in the humanities. a kind of propaedeutic

were called upon to save

Europe, the whole world and yourselves."

And the President of the U.S. S.R_

nineties. Mainly, my accent will be positive - positive, not prophetic - for there is much to anticipate happily in the next decade: rising enrollments, a shortage of teachers, a new generation, some of
yDU.

an end to the Cold War. But my talk will also and this may seem "negative" to

try to ventilate the academic humanities,

Winds of change always bang and clatter; fresh air is a scandal.
Oil

What is the political climate 'Of our discourse? Traditional parties fail us. The Right believes it holds a monopoly Virtue, the Left on Progress I dare say both are in grave error, Virtue is where virtue is, and no historical divinity has

world, where ideologies- shift or crumble, where globalism and localism dance to an ever crazier tune. Neither colonial nor posr-colonial, at once. It comprises not two but many unequal powers, some, like Malawi or

138

139

Ih:ib Hassan

"Letthe Fresh Air In,Critica1 Perspecth'cs on the Humanities"

Somaliland, at the very edge of survival. Ours, then, is a hybrid, mutant moment, a gallimaufry of politics, a medley of kitsch and cargo cults. East and West have "contaminated" geopolitical (a positive term in my vocabulary) one another. North and South can not escape each other. How, then, in this ramshackle space conduct our business? How understand theory or ideology? How teach, or speak to one another? A little poem, first, to soothe our angers. There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry This Traverse may the poorest take

2. Is it legitimate pression, castration,

for Lacaa to adapt the Saussurian and unconscious

distinction

between of re-

signifier and signified, the linguistic barre, to the Freudian mechanism so that conscious become diacritically

opposed?

Put another way, is it legitimate to equate linguistic cuts with metaphorical and equate the latter with actual threats to the penis? (1 ask this goal"). precisely because I accept Jane Gallop's claim that the idea of castration authorizes "Lacan's major statement of ethical purpose and therapeutic 3. And just what is the empiric basis for Lacan's renowned shadow play, the Mirror Stage? (A literal mirror, it seems, not just some parental reflection of the infant.) Norman Holland remarks: "As usual, Lacan gives neither experimental evidence nor clinical material. Instead, be cites a 1925 book by Kohler on the behavior of chimpanzees. " 4. Then, again, what about the hypotheses of castration and penis envy in Freud himself? Can these survive the virile critiques of feminists, the counter

Without oppress of TollHow frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human soul. Now let us think about theory a little. When is theory in the humanities theory. and when is it not? Or is it enough for a statement to be sUifficiently abstract, turgid, or obscure to qualifY as theory? Obviously, Karl Popper's criterion of "falsifiability" Thomas Tbomists, Kuhn's in experiment does not apply to our enterprise; nor does of research" in normal science. Aristotelians, DeFormalists, Structuralists, Lacanians, "consensus

statements of De leuze and Guattari, the animadversions

of Jeffrey M. Masson,
II

the numerous demurrers of thinkers and analysts in this century? 5. As for Marxism, I will spare you questions about class struggle as to history, the abolition of private property, the centralization the Party, the distinction between base and superstructure, key of all power in

and the forthcomwith

Marxists, Freudians,

ing revolution of the proletariat. The most courtly thing, I can say in the matter is that Marxism has become historical, quite like Thomism or Platonism, which Marxism shares many traits. Clearly, my queries about theory are selective. But the question of answerability stands. Some theorists may answer by claiming the rights of self-revision. This is a valid claim. Yet even revisionism has its intellectual limits: a

constructionists,

Feminists; Historicists,

all coexist in one space. What, then,
How is it - or is it

gives a literary theory its epistemic dignity, its ethical responsibility?

answerable'! And to whom? Examples of theoretical skullduggery
arbitrary examples, presented as queries.
1. How can Saussure's

simply revisionism? • abound in the last three decades. I adduce here only five

binary linguistics, based on phonetics, conception of language",

explain the

theory can not attenuate itself to the vanishing point. A Freudian who rejects the doctrine of the unconscious, a Marxist who denies the thesis of class I believe that theory has a place in with struggle, is not a theorist but a posturer. Despite my objections and objurgations, the curriculum:

semantics of language, its radical ambiguities of meaning? An "impoverished and thoroughly inadequate Chomsky caned it, though for a long time Saussurian structuralism reigned.

a skeptical place. I mean that it must be approached

140

141

Thab Hassan

"Let the Fresh Air In.Critical Perspectives on the Humanities,"

skepticism.

and that it is itself a form of skepticism. Etymologically,

theory

and here I co-opt

him - as he put it nonetheless:

"We don't read books can

derives from the Greek theoria, viewing or contemplation. theory is a mode of sustained interrogation. deconstruction; interrogation probimg reality by constructions a kind of quizzical poesis. We had fed the heart on fantasies, The heart's grown brutal from the fare; More substance in our enmities Than in our love; 0 hosey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare. Interrogation

But the intelligent does not mean only ways of

anymore, we put them on trial." It is a rigged trial, I might add, which the verdict is predetermined, and the prosecution, in its perpetual outrage,

eye also questions what it sees. At its best, then • as in the best Derrida can proceed by models and metaphors, of counter-reality.

claim moral superiority over the entire human past.
This attitude is not entirely innocuous. For not only does it abet ideological kitsch (see Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness oj Being); it

At its best, theory becomes

also substitutes

ideology for genuine, painful moral choice. Morality becomes merely "P.C.," the right pasty line held by individuals as imperfectly moral as the rest of us indeed, perhaps more imperfect, authority of a "party." Ideologies may also sap our will to veracity. We may no longer share an aband foundational Truth (capitalized). It is repugnant But in daily life, we and falsehood, from litto pretend that the at- or, as Kafka of omnipoThis would deny death, solute, transcendent, hence their need for both the solace and

distinguish well enough between truth (uncapitalized) I come now to the other term in my discourse: ideology. Humankind lieve, as William James knew, is as ineluctable as Nietzsche's Irony needs commitment create for themselves a necessary place in our lives. In the humanities, though, ideologies threaten to become the Muzak of academe. Everything elsewhere, exactions, is ideological, we are told, and indeed everything is everything. This vapid tautology can serve to j,ustity any view. But as I have! said Nazism and Vegetarianism may be can not tle white lies to darker self-deceptions. rophy of transcendent otherness. tenee, I regret, therefore, embarrassing that some of the worthiest necessity, bear too much reality. and can not Jive by skepticism alone. The will to bewill to power. to make a man or woman whole. Thus ideologies truths licenses ideological

mendacity

might say, "turns lying into a universal principle."

and dissolve reality into infantile fantasies

ideologies, eager to enhance
00·

the adherent's self-esteem - "feeling good about oneself' - gloss over hardand questions. Does feminism sufficiently reflect what actually colonies abAnd happens between men and women, or women and women, in bed? How can male gay theory avoid phalilocentrism? In what ways do emancipated continue to betray themselves? Why, with few exceptions, sent, or else construed
is self-criticism

we need to distinguish between ideologies, their claims and hidden their limits and consequences.

ideologies both, but they are not the same ideology, nor ate they ideological in tile same way, nor are their consequences identical. In the same profound breath, we are told that everything is politics. Everything is precisely that if politics is all we choose to heed. But literature. the Iliad and the Bhagavat Gitato Waiting for Godot has addressed from politics it

as racism, in the discourse of ethnic minorities?

what are the limits of "sensitivity" in our political. discourse, veracity may claim the First Amendment as its right? Fortunately, ideologies grow, develop,

especially when of

loosen up. Only the Albanians

and much else besides politics. The reduction of lilterary discourse to its political elements has sponsored. a new generation of Philistines and Pharisees; has made for a poverty of critical response. As my colleague Greg Jay put it -

academe, lost in the craggy fastness of their needs. hew to party lines or con" fuse lies with principles. Still, there's a little of the Albanian in all of us. We mistake our personal blueprints for maps of reality. Are our private and public

142

143

lhabHassan

"Let the Fresh. Air 1n:Critical Perspectives

on the Hnmanlties"

worlds. then, wholly irreconcilable. as Richard Rorty believes? Perhaps, I know only that skepticism and commitment, theory and ideology, must remain in liberal tension. I know onlJy that in pluralist societies, ideologies must struggle to recognize as well as critique their others; they must stand finally ready to
abandon

also transform debates into repetition compulsions, violating both speaker and listener, Vaclav Havel put it well: "We should! all fight together against arrogant words"." - such as I myself use here, at times, to vent my pique at id-

eospeak,
Sec-ond: We need to recognize that the geopolitical conditions of our world have drastically changed. This does not signify "the end of history," as Francis Fukuyama sensationally proclaimed. It signifies, rather, 8! fresh understanding of power and politics. which neither the whining Left not ranting Right possess. It means, above all, a different apprehension of our interactive world, particularly its deprived southern tier. To this apprehension, postcolonial studies contribute richly. as does the new anthropology of Clifford Geertz, George Marcus, James Clifford, Johannes Fabian, among others. This dialogical anthropology, which has learned much from literary studies, avoids the forceful intrusions of its predecessors on "primitive" societies. Nor does it simply observe, record, analyze, transport to a museum, native cultures. The new anthropology enters into an intense dialogue with those cultures. It listens as well as speaks, tries to see itself as it is seen" and permits itself to change in its encounter with otherness. In this respect, the insights of the new anthropology prove very pertinent to multicultural studies within our own societies. For in these pluralist societies, ethnic groups can not fulfil] their identities except in :relation to other identities. Theycan not claim uniquenessthe "rio-one-can-understand-us" attitude - no more than they can accept homogenization. Thus pluralism reveals its true character: not some mawkish sentiment of tolerance but a conflictual know/edge of otherness, which in vital cultures rarely comes to rest. Third: We need also a new conception of the postindustrial nation, of social emancipation En it and social critique. The old paranoiac model of defined oppressors and oppressed, dominant and subaltern groups, no longer works in cybernetic, consumer, media societies. We require a disseminated model wherein liberations and resistances take unexpected forms, alliances and an-

themselves.

Epitaph
This

is the dust of Timas, who died before shewas married and whom Persepone's dark chamberaccepted instead. After her death the maidenswho were her friends, with sharpiron cutting their lovelyhair, laid it upon her tomb.

ill,
So far, my argument amounts to this: cast a cold eye on theory, on ideology,

let the fresh air in. But what win the fresh air let in? I come now to the more "positive," the more genial part of my talk. What I put before you are some needful projects for our moment. They are not predictions, even less prescriptions, despite the rhetoric of urgency I employ. Here they are, seven projects, interlinked. First; We need, I think, to purify the language of our tribe, This is not only a Mallarmean project; nor is it simply prophylaxis to our thought. A renewed vocabulary, new redescriptions of issues, may also redefine our debates, priorities, goals. Terms like "materialism" and "materialist" belong on the same forest floor on which Bishop Berkeley's tree forever rots. Other charged words ~ like power; gender, race, class, with their bristling complement of abuse, like fascist, imperialist, sexist, racist, capitalist, formalist, humanist have become markers of both our moral and oUTintellectual hybris, Such words often serve not only as promiscuous slogans, suppressing thought; they

144

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lhabHassan

"Let the Fresh Air In~CriticalPerspectives on the Humanities"

tagonisms shift and surprise. Two French writers hint, however antically, at such a model. Here first is Lyotard:
America comes to a halt dumbstruck before an ocean. that puts an end to the Western border. The golden dream's accomplished. and people go about enjoying it. Social consensus isn't sought for in the authority of the capital but becomes a displacement westward. This history of States is corning to art end. Somethlng else can be heard at work something in the silence of what"s finished. What's at issue bas stopped being an occupation of lands, and, even less, an exploitation of resources. The issue is conquest of this or that kind of knowledge, committing it to memory, making it available, and the usefulness of this knowledge in creating new plans or developments.

ditionally, intellectuals (and academic humanists) have conceived their ~ole as critics of American society. This burden rests quite lightly on their shoulders since their temper is anti-authoritarian anyway. Nonetheless, the role is right. Vigilance insures 'liberty, and even crotchetiness can promote justice in a free society - r mean relatively free, for norte is wholly so. Moreover, unlike actuaries or plasma physicists, say, humanists express the adversarial potential of culture: "contentious, unamenable, tenacious of ideals quite contrary to those officially promoted by the state, or those accepted by many of our fellow citizens," as Ian Donaldson says, humanists rarely endear themselves to oligarchs or plutocrats. Yet humanists also crave influence and mouth power. Is their purely agonistic role narrow? Too often, alas, their thought follows a primitive syllogism: namely, the enemy of my enemy must be my friend. But a critical attitude toward America, say, is insufficient to make Mao, Castro, Qaddafi, or Saddam heroes; nor does distaste for capitalism make socialism good. Larger questions lurk here. Does opposition discharge all the intellectual's obligation to society? How can he or she participate less reactively in the construction of social reality? Does all power corrupt, and so warrant subversion? What is the legitimate contribution of mind to toe national interest? Must all myths be demythified, all mystiques demythified? Which myths are viable, which not? And how is oppositional criticism in the university compjicit, sometimes lavishly so in the vel)' system it condemns? I raise these questions because they inhere in much critical discourse - I mean they are inherently ignored. So far, my projects have been rather political. This is not because I accord priority to politics; it is only because none can quite evade its hum and buzz in the academy, especially when teachers harass students politically even mare than sexually, and graduate students bully one another about their "P.e." r turn now to projects in which] can put more heart- but first a
poem:

And here is Baudrillard:
America.has no identity problem. In the liUture, power will belong to those peoples with .no origins ami no authenticity who know how 00 exploit that situation to the full. Look at Japan, which to a certain extent has pulled off this trick better than the US itself; managing, in what seems to us an unintelligible paradox, to transform the power of territoriality and feudalism into that of deterritoriality and weightlessness, Japan is already a satellite of the planet Earth, But America was already in its day a satellite of the planet Europe, Whether we like it or not, the future has shifted towards artificial sateUiltes. The US is utopia achieved ..

America as "utopia achieved"? What about crime, poverty, homelessness, drugs, illiteracy, innumeracy, racism, slovenly products, and gargantuan deficits? In a curious way, these dismal facts do not cancel Lyotard's or Baudrillard's perceptions. Put differently the task of an adequate social theory would be to discern critically how the failures of America coexist with its "utopian" achievements, discern also what might ensue from these contradictions And in all this, "America" remains only an emblem of other developed nations. Fourth: We need to rethink the relation of critique to national power, of the intellectual to America, now the sole, maimed superpower in the world. Tra-

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They all have weary mouths,
bright souls without a seam. And a yearning (as for sin) often haunts their dream.
They wander. each and each alike, in God's garden silently,

THE ANGELS

as many. many intervals

in his might and melody, Only when they spread their wings they waken a great wind througb the land: as though with his broad sculptor-hands

find ourselves believing, we hardly know how or why." Beliefs are the crux to the postmodem condition precisely because that condition is pluralist, confJictual, indeterminate; they inform our ironies no Jess than commitments, inform our deconstructions as well as dogmas. For even the most thorough, the most "nihilist;' deconstruction, is performed in the name of some value, be it reason, lucidity, or truth. There is an ethics and politics of belief, a hermeneutics of belief and a poetics, a therapeutics and pedagogy too. May an inquiry into such topics help mediate current conflicts in the theory and praxis of the humanities? Sixth: We need a public criticism, serious, elegant, intelligible, answerable to a larger, literate community of readers, the very community, in fact, on whom the mandarins of academe finally depend. This is the kind of criticism we associate with Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, Denis Dono,ghue, Susan Sontag, Leslie Fiedler, Alfred Kazin, and Irving Howe, who seem to have few heirs in America. In England, the tradition of civil criticism thrives in writers from V.S. Pritchett and Cyril COMol1yto Frank Kennode and George Steiner. Their books sell; they even excite; they do not "drop from the hand," as Roland Barthes might say. Granted, the Common Reader bas changed since Dr. Johnson attributed to him "the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices," inno-

God was turning

the leaves of the dark book of the Beginning.

Fifth: We need to know more about beliefs which undergird all our words and actions. Even a critic like Stanley Fish who calls continually on beliefs as del ex machina seems helpless before their mystery. Where do beliefs come from? How do they change? Which applies in a particular situation rather than another? Alld what happens when beliefs conflict in an individual? We know better now than simply to ascribe belief to class, gender, or race. Two brothers, twin sisters, can hold very different beliefs, and many values coexist in the same milieu, even in a society as uniform as Japan's. Fish's colleague Barbara Hermstein Smith, addresses the question of beliefs (she calls them values) better. In her book, Contingencies of Value, she insists that values-are always mixed, mutant, relative, variable, and contingent, but not merely subjective for all that, since they are also part of cultural system. By her own admission, however, her philosophical relativism, "in the sense of a contingent conceptualization that sees itself and all others as such ... cannot even lead or point the way to itself" Clearly, the field remains open to investigation, though it was pioneered, a century ago, by Nietzsche, Freud', and William James who, incidentally, in a book called The Will to Believe, helplessly remarked: "As a matter of fact, we
r...

cent of "all the refinements of subtlety and the dogmatism of learning." But a
New Common Reader has emerged in the age of mass media, and he or she must be addressed. Granted, again.. a case can be made for special idioms and vocabularies. Jonathan Culler tries to make that case by denouncing "the ideology of lucidity" - how bizarre in a scholar opposed to elitism - and Derrida offers a more considered argument against the ideal of "universal translatability," from every language to every other. that the university cherishes, But I remain largely unconvinced. For the moment let me say only this. A public criticism would serve a triple function at the present time (this sounds appropriately like Eliot). It might teach us to write well again. It could overcome the alienation that the literate

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public feels from the academic humanities, an alienation become acute in the current debates regarding the canon. And it would remind us of actual constraints that: writers must suffer when they enter the market place - I mean constraints of editing and censorship, deadlines, reviews, interviews, contracts, advances, and libel suits, everything, that professional writers must successfully endure. In the end, though, for academics, writing and teaching styles permeate one another. The New Common Reader is in tbe classroom, more eager to learn than to witness ideological sophistries and verbal stunts, Seventh: Last and most crucial, for in a sense this project subsumes all others, we need to recover the vital nexus, the live, hurtful, jubilant response to "literature itself." frank Kermode calls it an "appetite for poetry," and in a book by that name, he observes that arguments for or against literature, for or against theory, have now become a tedious genre in themselves. He wants none of it. Yet the fact remains before our eyes: diiicism has become only "theory", and theory disappears not into "ideology." Kermode further observes that "this great efflorescence of literary theory seems to entail an indifference to, and even a hostility toward, 'literature'." Nonetheless, he concludes, as I would, "that it would be quite wrong to deplore theory as such, though quite right to contest some of its claims" - claims such as I have contested here myself. Now some of you will recall Paul de Man's subtle defense of theory: the resistance to theory, he said, stems from theory itself (understood in this case as "rhetorical reading"). This is a preemptive argument, however, saying in effect that nothing lies "outside" theory, that everything is theory. I have come slowly to believe the opposite: that in what touches me most, much lies outside theory. At least, tbat is bow I read Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare. Austin, Goethe, Blake, Kierkegaard, Melville, Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Dickinson, Strindberg, Lawrence, Yeats, Proust, Rilke, Woolf, Kawabata ...

N.
My intent, however, is neither to deny theory nor to distinguish adamandy between theory and literature, but only to persuade you, if I can, to attend more lovingly to "literature," what we have traditionally called literature, How elm I persuade yOU! of this? Facts rarely alter beliefs; alien values seldom displace our own. Perhaps the best I can do is attest to my own reasoned passion in the matter, my own experience of literature,
As a modernist and quondam postmodernist, I have always assumed that. in

some radical sense, literature lies beyond good and evil, beyond private need and public virtue, Something in the "masterpieces" remains finally uninteiligible to us, as love or death, as life itself, remains. How absurd to read certain works, from Gi/gamesh to The Castle, grid ~n hand, ideology at the ready. How pathetic to believe that reality must serve obediently OUf logic Of insecurities. As in all great art, the rogue power of literature is its deeper wisdom, its multivocal mystery. You may-think I have gone mystical on you, And why not? Who knows the answer to the Last Things, indeed the answer to anything of moment? But I have not gone mystical. Nor do I concur with the thesis of George Steiner in his brave, brilliant, and bristling book, Real Presences, that "where God's presence is no [anger a tenable supposition and where His absence is no longer a felt, indeed overwhelming weight certain dimensions of thought and creativity [in all the arts] are no longer attainable." I do Dot Concur though I sympathize with Steiner's speculative fiction of a "primary city," devoid of critics and commentators and the "proud specters" of theory. But his "wager on transcendence," perhaps the noblest wager a human being can make, must remain personal, a private, refractory choice in our present world - 1lI0t a guiding critical principle. No, I hope to attest the presence of literature on more pragmatic, to recover its destructive (nol dsconstructive) elements. those elements which Lionel Trilling perceived only too well, and finally averted, in his essay, "On the Teaching of Modern Literature. ",I hope to reclaim - since I have alluded to

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Hassan

Trilling - the pleasureprinciple from being effete or "aesthetic"

in literature, indeed in culture, a, principle, far as we now say with curled lip, a principle "If I can't dance, I don't want to above all develop

Raymond Federman

radical. complex, exigent.and life enhancing.

be part of your revolution," Emma Goldman cried to her comrades. I hope to
develop the emotional literacy of students and colleagues, courage my own. I hope to restore the will to veracity in our discourse.

r hope

to en-

Before Postmodernism and After (part Two)

an unflinching independence

of mind and heart, which literature

re-

quires, so that we may read troublesome detachment.

books - say Sade'a Justine or Camille with unthreatened
J started Part One of this paper in the middle of a quotation,

Paglia's Sexual Personae - with wide awake intelligence,

Am I alone in these practicable hopes?
in its contradictory regimens, both nationalizes

I will start Part

Let me brusquely conclude. In a famous essay, Jacques Derrida argued per- , suasively that tile university, and universalizes deconstructive to propose, deconstruct knowledge. He sought liberty from this double hegemony in literature, nor does literature

Two also in tbe middle of a quotation, and studied Postmodemism, Frog Technique cest-tuality), quotations

and I will probably finish this presentawere central and essential to its existo quotation (known as The LeapFederman) and often

tion in the m.iddJe of another quetanon. For, as we know from having lived tence. It was by leaping from quotation

theory, in idiolects of every kind. But suppose now, as I want that theory does not deconstruct explodes the assumptions literature? itself, but literature deconstructs theory. I mean this quite emof theory about reason, about of ideology. Wouldn't that be as the place where silences the bombinations

- see Take Or Leave It by Raymond text progressed

even by quoting itself (known as inter-textuality, tihat the Postmodem

but which I prefer to call inwithout really going any-

phatically: literature reality, literature
C8YSe

enough

to celebrate

I mean literature

where, thus delaying or even at times cancelling its own end - its own eventual death. A quotation is, of course, the repetition of something already said It merely gives the illusion of amplification, in fact, a text built on quotations backtrack of enlargement,
Of

meaning and mystery affect their transactions
planet

at the formal center of reality. I

written, But
!l,I1

mean literature as travel and translation in the emergent Babel-land which this

As such it adds nothing new to what is in theprocess of being said or written. of progress. (regardless of whether these come from

will become.
A great while ago the world begun, With. hey, ho, the wind and the rain; But that's all one, out play is done, And we'll strive to please you every day.

external or an internal source) cannot go forward, cannot advance; it can only

into. time or into itself Therefore, one could! say of the Postmodem

text, what Diderot once confessed about himself: "I listen only for the pleasure of repeating." And so, here is the quotation that will give the' second part of this presentation the illusion of going somewhere. These few general remarks to begin with ..What am. I to do, what shall I do, what should 1 do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered _

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Before Postmodernism and A.fteJr (part Two)

or sooner or later? Generally speaking. There roust be other shifts? Otherwise it would be quite hopeless. But it is quite hopeless. I should mention. before going any further, any further on, that I say aporia without knO"Wtling what it means. These general remarks were 'pronounced by The Unnamable at the beginning I be-

3. Now that the effects of Post modernism are evident in sectors as diverse as dress, food and lodging, and are in those forms understood, 4. Postmodernism a department the end is not far .. and ended as

began as a genuine if loose literary movement

store curiosity ...

of Beckett's novel by that title. [Yes, Beckett again, the first and last Postmodern writer, as I declared earlier]. These general remarks summarize, lieve, the dilemma of iPostmodemism. preme indecision of Postmodernism. itself as to how to proceed?
As a late Postmodernist (late in the sense of belonging to a movement

5, When the academy starts to take sides and quibbles about Postmodernism, it quickly kills what it discusses ... 6. In winning the day, Postmodernism, 7. Because Postmodernism survive .,. 8, Postmodernism as a literary notion was invented to deal with the Holoof course, loses ...

Or what I called in Part One: the suFrom its beginning to its end - by af-

firmations and negations invalidated as uttered ~ Postmodernism questioned
which

was viewed both as a movement end a perfume,

has already departed), I seem to have a similar problem here. How to proceed beyond Postmodemism, Well, obviously, Therefore, Preparing beyond what is in the pro~s of finishing - of dying?

and both as an intellectual disposition and a bowl of fruit, it had no chance to

by

leaping from quotation to quotation, some months ago, I wrote a letter to twenty caust. The prewar split between form and content Was incapable of dealing with the moral crisis provoked by the Holocaust, and therefore writers like Beckett, Walter Abish, Ronald Sukenick, Primo Levi, Raymond Federman, Jerzy Kosinski, and many others, invented Postmodemism to search among more is dead? the dead, to dig into the communal grave, in order to re-animate wasted blood and wasted tears ..... or perhaps simply in order to create something replied, but all asked not to of the great Postmodern. films). 9. When something completes its intel1ectual and moral journey it is enshrined interesting than death (as Claude Lanzman did in Sboah, for instance - one

let us leap-frog to The End oCPostmodernism! for this presentation,

of my friends (writers, critics, professors, entertainers) asking them to. answer these two questions: 1. Do you think Postmodernism 2. If so, what killed it? To my great delight, all twenty correspondents

be identified, These are the twenty answers I received: 1. Postmodemism was an exercise in discontinuity, rupture. break, mutation, within sealed cases in the various Sorbonnes, like the relics of saints, and is venerated was in much the same way and with the same useless result, and so it is with Posmodernism ... 2, As with all new things, once absorbed by the economy Postmodernism finished ..

transformation, therefore doomed from the beginning ...

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Before Postmodernlsm itruI After (part Two)

10. When among critics the tone of'the debate shifts from intellectual to

moral, then we know that Posmodernism is dead ...
11. The death of anything is, of course, a trope not for its death but for its

17. When the great painters of New York City (Stella, Johns; Rauchenberg, etc.) went to work for Women's Wear Daily, as they did en masse in ~960, he t end was at hand (the visual arts always lead, the literary arts follow). The death of Post modernism was sealed in 1960, the same year it was born.,.
18. The great works of any age always spring from a personal necessity that is

utility, its applicability. Now Postmodernism no longer avails, no longer applies 12. Whena movement becomes a choice and not a necessity, as Postmodernism has now become, it signifies its death. But since one can never speak one's death in the present - one's death can only be spoken by others after it happens - the death of Post modem ism is now being spoken by everyone, everywhere.
.'

only subsequently elaborated into this or that theory and chiefly as a means of publicizing said great works. Theory killed Postmedernism, but the irony is that theory was also Postmodernism ... 19, Postmodernism was responding to the end - the end of Europe, after World War Two, Just as Modernism, earlier, responded to the breakdown of self.;.evident truths (the consistency of truth, one might say) elaborated during the 19th Century, Postmodernism cried and decried nothingness, nonsense, and death, and in So doing cried and decried its own nothingness, nonsense and death ...
20. It isn't, to say it again, that Posmodernism is dead a certain value. such as

13. The central, fundamental literary texts of Post mod emism: Texts For Nothing, The Library of Babel, Cosmicomics; Lost In the Funhouse, The Voice in the Closet. These texts announced and performed the end of Postmodernism while pretending to serve as its beginning ... 14. The current reactionary literary climate dominated by works in received forms does not indicate the death of Postmodernismas much as the persistence of the. power of market economies to define the arts ... 15, Literary fashions have more to, do with the reception of literature than with its creation, and therefore more to do with its end than its beginning, '. 16. While it is true that the current literary scene viewed from a certain perspective looks sterile, it is more true that it is extraordinarily fallow, ready to submit, ready to compromise, in a quiveringly receptive mode. Postmodernism died because it refused to compromise .. ,

".

impressionism, dadaism, surrealism, modernism, abstract expressionism, new criticism, feminism - after a fixed period of bubbling at the surface, it sinks and recombines with other like elements to form again a part of the generative stew of art and culture, and that moment of rot is called the death of a move. ment ... The general sense one gets. from these replies (some quite fascinating, I think) is that Postmodemism is indeed dead, finished: on the one hand because it was swallowed and digested by the economy and eventually excreted and disseminated into the culture, on the other hand because it was stifled by academic bickering and consequently turned into a futile debate (especially in
America).

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Before Posrmcdemism

aad After (part Two)

Now some people might say' that this situ.ation is not very encouraging but one must reply that it is not m.eant to entourage those wbo :lIaythat.

dve memory,

tbis is wby it was accused of being plagiaristic,

a.nd of

Oops, I think I've already said that, in Part One. Oh well, like all good Postmodernists, 1 suffer from intertextuaHty and repetition. But one couldask, to continue in the questioning mode: Why did Postrnodernism allow itself to be swallowed and digested by the culture, or to be stifled by academic theorizing? And the answer would be: Because Postmodern:ism, and more specifically
Postmodern fiction. moved from continuity; from. Ouidity.coherence, to discontinuity, intertextuaUty, metafictionality. linearity (in history as well as in literature) indeterminacy ,plurality; of impulses, Ineoherent itself. stable? Yes, of course, literature ited by the permutations tions.However, tant,aod vulnerable fragmentation, deeenterlng,

working Against Itself. Digr~ssion Allow me to clarity this last statement with another quotation, this time from L 'Entretien infini by Maurice Blanchot:
To write is always first to rewrite, and to rewrite does not mean to revert to a previous form of writing, no more than to an anteriority of speech, or of pre~e,or of meaning. To rewrite is a form of UIldoubling which always precedes unity.or suspends it while plagiarizing it. [My treaslation]

dislocation, Iud ism, to become series of disconnected states, combinations
listS and verbal doodles, it ev-entually destroyed
c,

[End of D igres.sion] But isn't literature independent Of its author? Literature may pretend to be independent of the personaUty or its author, hut it is always about some
profound (subconscious) obsession of the author and of the society i.n Fiction. either con. which he lives ..This was p.articulariy true of Postmodern lirms~ accepts, presupposesa always the

But, one could also ask, isn't literature language? And isn't language always is made of language, but language limfiction interesting and imporit ficdon was of a restricted number of elements a.Dd fune-

what madePostmodern

too, is that it tried to escape these restrietiens,

tried to .say what is beyond language. that is why Postmodern doomed from the b~inning. spoken, PostmodemisDI the unspeakable. attempted

But isn't literature always a. form of orientation? Literature

EveD though the unspealk,able can never be

to speak the impos.sibility of speaking

suppom. defends the status quo, or else questions, chaldisorientation, and tbat is exactly wbat Postmodernism

lenges, denounces, rejects the status quo. Whatever the case, orientation did: it disoriented. But isn't the. spirit ill which one writes decisive in exerting a critical response? The boundary between writing and reading is not always dearly marked. The spirit in which one read Pestmodern slve in exerting a negative critical response. fiction was. often deejBarthes cheese to But as Roland

But isn't literature an invention, and as such can it not invent its own language? [My imaginary questioner is very stubborn]. No, literatureis a re-invention, it never creates anything new, it simply re-invents

nothing new, in other words - just as the sun ev-ery day, having no alternative, rises on the nothing new. Postmodern wbat had been banished, hidden. or upelled fiction only re-invented from individual or cellec-

pointed out in The Pleasure of the Text: "The authorcannot
write what will not be read in his beek,"

15&

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Before Postmodemism

and After (Part Two)

These are the reasons why the Pestmodern different and therefore disorienting ern writer understood right to his difference, confused and confusing

writer was, in fact, different The Postmcd-

-

As good a definition

of Postmodern Postmodem

fiction as any. For paradoxically, a difference.

by

to most by that difference.

playing with repetition
As such Postmodern object of pleasure,

fiction created

a difference

that at the heart of the heart of his otherness, that world

he had a

which negated all claims of adequacy to the natural or to the true. fiction offered itself as a playful object, and even as an was asked to play. a to)" a game with which the reader

to his way of seeing and writing the world, however

may

have been. era [I would like to remind you that

To write fiction during the Postmodem

One needs only to reread Donald Barthelme's

Snow White, John Barth's Lost
fiction offered itself as a

I am still speaking

of Post modem ism in the past tense] was above

all an

effort

in the Funhouse, Steve Katz's Creamy & Delicious, Robert Coover's Spanking the Maid, etc., to see, to feel, how Postmodem
toy, a game, an object of pleasure. strated in the Pleasure of the Text, Postmodem

to create a Difference (or Differance, with an A as Jacques Derrida spelled
it), and not continue to pretend that fiction was the same - the same as reality.

Or as Roland Barthes so joyfully demonfiction found a way to speak between what he

If there seems to be a contradiction
Postmodem or written, process it is because

here in terms of what I said earlier about difference I am trying to point to

pleasure-

no! even better than that, found a way to exult bliss. In The PleasBarthes makes a useful distinction and a text of bliss, That distinction

fiction being mere repetition, or fie-invention of the already said
the Postrnodern but a difference

we of the Text, Roland
caMs a text of pleasure
text:

reveals the essen-

here, was not a difference of subject or of subject-matter, - process of telling, of presenting of convention why the, originality in Postmodem

of

tial difference between a traditional

realistic work of fiction and a Postmodem

rather than re-presenting.

That is

fiction grew more and more For to play the same old game rather than artistry. of the Text of pleasure: the text that contents, fills., grants euphoria; the text that comes from culture and does not break with it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading. Text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader's historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language. Of course, not everyone is willing to be discomforted or unsettled by a never Post-

absolute and arbitrary,

for invention consisted

in devising new sets of rules by

which the familiar pieces could be rearranged.

by the same old rules would have been mere competence,

If traditional realistic fiction fiction was a presentation of
And what was different
nation of Scheherazade treasure wrote: is the treasure." Reflecting

was a representation differen~e

sa,me,

Postmodern re-incar-

- a liberation

of what was different.

was the difference. Or as the Postmodern
explained in Chimera: "It's as discourse (circa

if -

as if the key to the

on. the contemporary

1970) !Michel Foucault

POftmodern

text of bliss. Allan Bloom (a critic who has probably

known joui'ssance) in The Closing oj the American Mind dismisses produced in or around that movement." According

modernism when he tells us that "Not a single hook of lasting importance was In order to liberate difference we must have a contradictory thought, free of dialectic, free of negation. A thought which says yes to divergence; an affirmative thought, whose instrument is disjunction; a thought of the multiple; a thought which does not obey a scholarly model, but which addresses insoluble problems witha play of repetition. [My translation] to him, the Postmodern
this misguided writer lived Whether writer was infected with relativism, believing that all values are only opinions,

and one

opinion as good as another. tolerance.

and therefore

in a daze of universal

apathy, blasphemy,

and ignorance.

1M

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and After (Part Two)

or not Allan Bloom is correct is quite irrelevant. A large and fascinating body of Postmodem fiction is still present today and still in need 'of serious evaluation. What is disturbing to Allan Bloom is that Postmodern fiction depicted a reality that be prefers to deny - a oonfused reality, certainly, but a depiction of it that is a far more accurate delineation of quotidian existence than the illusionsof.reahty devised by the writers of the 30's: and 40's, or the retreating nee-realists of tile 80's, or the virtual realists now emerging in the 90's. It is the likes of Allan Bloom who put an end to Postmodemism, or displaced it to some other cultural region to become an inoffensive topic of caecdemic debates. !By disguising his argument for the preservation of what one might term the comfortable familiar as a reference for an indisputable paradigm, Allan Bloom is able to dismiss four decades of astonishing radical literary activities, And he is not alone in this, There are :roany "fools .. f all kinds, these days, o who have decreed foreclosure of the text and of its pleasure" [I am quotiag Roland Barthes here], "either by cultural conformism or by intransigent rationalism or by political moralism or by criticism of the signifier or by stupid pragmatism or by snide vacuity or by destruction of the discourse, loss of verbal desire." E. Donald Hirsch's trivial list of requisites for a properly informed culture, Robert Richman's desperate call for a revival of good old-fashioned literature, William Bennett's demand for a. return. to the basics of education are, all symptoms of a last stand, a tightening of the circle of wagons against the attack of the Postmodern barbarians upon the comfortable famili,ar. All these fools. (as Roland Barthes calls them) are begging [or the preservation of sameness against difference. What Allan Bloom. and all those who think like him want is to be told, retold, what they already know. In other words, they want to be comforted in their knowledge. This is why they must oppose or dismiss all innovative activities. all experimentations which discomfort (perhaps to the point of a. certain boredom). Postmodern fiction certainly made many of its readers uncom-

fortable, as it unsettled

their histori.cal, eultural.psycho.logical

a:ssump~

tions, by disrupting the comfortable relationship' of words and things, by bringing to a crisis their relation with language and with reality. Michel Foucault called this linguistic disruption or displacement, an. heteretopia, and in Les Mots et tes Chases he put it this way:
disturbs, no doubt because it secretly undermines language, because it prevents this or that to be named, because' it destl'oyS or confuses the meaning of common words. because it ruins syntax in advance, not 'Only the syntax that constructs sentences, but that less visible syntax that 'holds words and things> together, Heterotopia [My translation]

As the theoreticians of literature nave demonstrated in the past few years; all works of literature can be viewed from two perspectives: constructively or deconstructively, To borrow two useful terms from Roland Barthes, all works of literature can be viewed as siudium or as punctum, The studium approach to a work of art determines its cultural, and even its social context The studium is the source of the viewer/reader's usually mild, polite interest ~n a. text, the same sort of vague,casl.lal, irresponsible interest one takes in certain people, objects, clothes. various forms of entertainment which one finds to be simpty all right. In other words, an interest without excitement The punctum approach breaks through this complacency of response, HUlS provoking a more intense and personal (subjective) reaction in the reader. Moreover, thestudium sends the reader back to the predictable reference, back to the referential terms which made the work of fiction possible, but in which the reader, in fact, has little. interest The punctum, on the contrary, locks the reader into the text and gives him both a sense of excitement and discovery, but also a sense of discomfort and anxiety, The studigm gives satisfaction for recognizing what one already knows •.it produces the comfort of easy recognition. The punctum represents the encounter with the unknown, with the unpredictable. it causes the agony of unrecognition,

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Raymond Federman

Before Postmodemism

and After (Palt Twe)

unrecognition,

However, if one must choose between easy recognition and the agony of the punctum approach may be preferable, for as Postmod-

point in time (the present, our present), but a
Postmodemism may indeed

moment in constant shift in rela-

tion to' what happens before and what happens after. In this sense the term

ernisrn has clearly demonstrated. history is a fiction already told and cancelled, a bad dream already dreamt and forgottetl. particularly in the Western World which, for centuries, has been seeking a form of agony worthy of its past. The denial or dismissal of any avant-garde activity is, of course, the usual method of disposing of what discomforts; what unsettles, of what creates a crisis. No doubt the end of Postmodemism, which of course corresponds to the end of the avant-garde, has changed considerably the conditions of labor in
literature. But I am not of those who believe that this situation brings an end to experimentation, or an end to the exigency of the new and the innovative ..I

disappear, though the ideas and innovations of Postmodemism may.contioue to have validity. After all, isn't it the fate of all ISMS to be already obsolete the moment they are, articulated? Nazism, Fascism, Communism, but also Futurism, Surrealism Bxistentialism, and all the other Isms of recent history were based on a retroactive ideology or aesthetic, and whatever is retroactive can only inspire itself of a VjDlence and a decadence already nostalgic when it happens. All Isms are retroactive scenarios of power and of death already played out at the very moment when they appear in history. And toot was also the fate of Postmodernism

which, in the last resort, was the sign ofa simulation of It decaying movement,
the sign of what had been, of what had already passed - that is to say Modernism. That is. why postmodem fiction; even though called an avant-garde movement, was such a mystifying, and yet necessary historic retroversion. But of course, one's critical response to postmodem fiction depends on whether one approaches it from the stadium or the punctum. It is true, however, that using terms such as postmodern and avant-garde in the same context immediately raises some complex and ambiguous issues, largely because certain events within Postmodem culture have tended to blur the distinction between avant-garde and mainstream art. This interaction of mainstream and avant-garde started during the 80's when the traditional distinction between high-art and pop-art became a central defining feature of Postmodernism itself Today such distinction is, if artytning;eveo more diffi-

am not ready - and I am sure I speak now for many ofmy fellow Postmodernists or Surfictionists - to renounce the urgency 0(;. innovation, and simply abandon literature to neo-realistic forms, pre-digested by mass-media dernands. I do not think that literature can submit that easily to the possible. On

the contrary, I know that literature. today as always, faces the impossible,
faces the inadequation of language and of thought to apprehend or even comprehend reality, and yet, always in quest of new forms, literature will succeed in giving life once again to the impossible. Where, and when, and by whom? That I am not ready to say, for we are today still in the same confused predicament which forced Samuel Beckett's Unnamable to ask, some fifty years ago on the threshold of his own tale, and the threshold of Postmod-

ernism: "Where Now? Who Now? When. Now?" Still; one should ask: does Postmodemism have any future? And the answer could be both No and Yes, since by its very nature and defiaition it existed and performed ma kind! of futurity, in the POST-(modern), even the POST·
(contemporary). In fact, ene should no longer speak of'Postmodernism, to discard such terms as Past, Present, Future, but of Post-futurism. But leaving aside these useless verbal games, perhaps it is time and replace these with Befort, Now. After, with the understanding that the NOW is no longer a fixed

cult to maintain.
For instance, should rock videos by Madonna, Peter Gabriel or Laurie Anderson be considered mainstrain simply because they are enormously

popular, even though they employ visual and verbal techniques that. twentyfive years ago would have certainly been considered highly experimental, and
therefore postmodern? Is William Gibson's cyberpunk novel Neuromancer

164

165

Raymond Federman

Before Postmodernism

and After (Part Two)

avant-garde and therefore postmodern since it uses unusual formal techniques (collage, cut-ups. appropriation of other texts. bizarre new vocabulary and metaphors, temporal displacement, etc.)? Or does its publication and success in the science-fiction domain establish it as a pop novel? Are television shows like Max Headroom. some of the early Saturday Night Live, or David Lynch's recent Twin Peaks series to be categorized as avant-garde underground works because they utilize many features associated with postmodem innovations, or as Popular Art because they are in fact merely television shows? These are complex questions. And facing such questions one should definitely abandon the term Postmodem to describe these activities. Or else invent 31 new term such asPOST~POMO or AVANT~POP, as someone has already proposed. What makes such questions and distinctions increasingly meaningless has to do with the rise of the media culture and the cbanges in the way art (including literature) is manufactured, bought and sold. Specifically, as the market economy (Capitaliislfi in other words) has expanded its operations into previously untapped areas, or areas which at one time were considered unmarketable, it recognized (and of course took advantage of this situation) that there is 3. significant and potentially profitable audience-market for even the most innovative, radical, shocking, disturbing, unsettling works of art, even those works of art whose avowed purpose is the demolition of the capitalist system itself. Hence the seeming anomaly of The Sex Pistols' dada-esque brand of enraged anarchy, utter nihilism, violence and pure noise being successfully marketed in. England and in the U. S. But there are many other equally unusual and revealing examples: Derek Pell's darkly humorous and bitingly satiric collage-andtext works, Dr. Bey's Suicide Handbook, Dr. Bey's Book of Strange Curiosilies, Dr. Bey's Book of the Dead, ,

treatments of sexuality and violence published in the U.S. in this century; but there is also the commercial success enjoyed by movies like Blue Velvet, David Lynch's surreal and disturbing portrayal of the violence and sadomasochism that lies, barely concealed, beneath the bland surfaces of America's suburban dreams; the equally unlikely success enjoyed by performance artist Laurie Anderson, whose quirky blend of experimental minimalist music, standup comedy, fragmented lyrics of found language, and the use of odd instruments (a violin that plays human voices, a vocoder that electronically alters human voices) became popular concert attractions and best-selling albums. All of these in many ways can be considered postmodem works. But even the controversial novel" American Psycho, by Bret: Eston Ellis, fOif better or for worse, is a product. of Postmodernism. As a decent citizen, reader and writer, were I to condescend to read such a book, I would fully expect to hate it, and to find it totally boring and not worthy of any intelligent reaction. Yet, curiosity drove me to that novel, and I read a good portion of tt ([ stopped before the end since I was not really interested to find! out bow such gruesome stories are resolved). Nevertheless, it turns out that Ellis has actually written a rather interesting; novel, somewhat experimental in its narrative technique. It is a funny, obsessive novel, full of memorable voices, and of course, extremeliy vicious, violent, disturbing, unsettling. And yet, it may be the best hook, or at least the most revealing book written about tlhe 80's RepublicanlWall Street/Me Too/Rich & FarnousJGreed/Cheat/Gulf-War America. No doubt Ellis, like the rest of the Brat-Pack, and most of the Cyberpunk Fiction writers (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Marc Laidlaw, Rudy Rucker) or the new young thugs of innovative fiction, Kathy Acker, Mark Leyner, Mark Amerika, William Vollmann, Euridiee, Criss Mazza, and several others newly arrived on the literary scene, grew up during the postmodem era and learned their tricks from the old masters and makers of Postmodemism: William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.., Thomas Pynchon, Joseph McElroy, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and many others.

all published by a major New York pub-

lisher, Avon Books; the gradual rise to literary stardom of Kathy Acker, whose nightmarish punk novels (all derived from postmodem techniques) such

as Blood

and Guts in Highschool, Great Expectations, Empire of the Sense-

less; and In Memoriam to Identity, are among the angriest and most graphic

166

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Raymond Federman

Before Postmoderaism and After .(Part Two) What is modernity? It is, first of all, an ambiguous term: there are as many types of modernity as there are societies. Each society has its own. The meaning of the word is as uncertain and arbitrary as the name of the period that precedes it, the Middle Ages. If we are modem when compared to medieval times, are we perhaps the Middle Ages of a future Modernity? Is a name that changes with time a real name? Modemity is a word in search of Its meaning. Is it an idea,a. mirage or a moment of history? Nobody knows for sure ... In recent years there has been much talk of Postmodernism, but what is Postmodernism if not an even more modern modernity? Octavia Paz may be right. Postmodernism has now become the Middle Ages of the next, as yet unnamed, era. But while waitiag for that era to be named, but

But then, that Poss-Pome generation ~ these bright and risen angels, to play on the title of a recent and fascinating novel by one' of these Post-Porno writers, William T.. Vollmann - has as much right to its vision of reality, however twisted or preposterous or virtual it may be, as the previous generation. This anomaly of the popularity of an art which openly 'and defiantly denounces what: makes it live, of an art that bites the hand that feeds it, is not only evident in literature, but in much. of the visual arts too, and of course the new Rock Music, in Rap, in MTV, which consists of non-sequential, of the capitalistic system.

in

rapid

fire profusion of disjointed bits of images and information thrown in the face

But why shouldn't these new writers and artists not live in. their time and be
shaped by their time: the era of computer, fax, video, telecommunieationalso the era of greed and fraudulence. The Postmodernists were shaped of the 60's and 70's reached the:'age of reason (or unreaand Structuralism, son) in the 1940's and SO's, and their intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities

discussed, debated, argued, explained, dismissed, so that it may in turn become the Middle Ages of the subsequent era, let us admit that Postmodemism was a great fun adventure. It. is only too bad that all the explorers involved in that adventure could not have survived to see The Eud,

by Existentialism

by the Beats,

Jazz

(especially Bebop), Abstract Expressionism, and the appearance, at least in the U.S. of authors such as Kafka, Nabokov, Borges, Beckett Today, the cultural matrix: that produced the first wave of post modem fiction seems as distantand old-fashioned to us as love-beads, incense, communes, flower-people, and I began this presentation by quoting from Beckett's Stirrings Slill, I would phrases like: "tum on, tune in, drop out." Though. no one ever really felt comfortable with the term postmodern, nonetheless for several decades it served to define a certain avant-garde activ-

like to close with another few words from that last gasp of postmodern fiction
~ a passage which seems to describe so well the present predicament postmodern writer: Head on hands half hoping when he disappeared again thathe would not reappear again and half fearing that he would not. Or merely wQl1Qering, Or merely waiting. Waitin.gto see if he would or would not. of the

ity played out on a high intellectual and artistic level, at times even accused of
being elitist, until that activity was absorbed into mainstream culture by the economy

and quickly turned into Pop-Art. And so now it is time, perhaps, to have, in fact, put an end to all further discussions of Post-

abandon the term postmodern. Octavia paz may modernism when in his acceptance speech for the 1990 Nobel Prize he reflected on the elusive meaning of the concept of modernity.

168

169

101m Barth

The Novel in the Next: Century
What puzzles me about this presentation (part One !I.$ well as Part two) is that in attempting to explain The End orPostmodemism, I may have, in fact, written yet another postmodem text, Oh well! When Harvard College was established in 1636 as the firs: American institution of htgher education, the Unjversita degli Studt dt Macerata, in the HarAdriatic marches of Italy, was already 346 years old, approximately

Here all is clear ..• No aU il Dot clear ... but the

disCOIU5emust go on ... sO one invents obscuri.ties RHETORIC. [Samuel Beckett - The Unnamable]

vard's present age. Last year, in celebration of its 70()th anniversary, the university hosted an ongoing international symposium D11 "The Novel in the Next \ Century. " Whatfollows isadapted from my remarks to that symposium,
-

.

."'

*

..

With the subject of the novel in the next century 1 have both a certain sympathy and a certain problem. The sympathy is understandable enough: I am a practising novelist, not as old as the University of Macerata or the genre of the novel but, like them, not as young as I used to be, A new novel of mine my ninth - was publishedearly in 1991; with luck I will commit yet another novel before our cataclysmic century expires. and it IS not altogether out of the question that I might perpetrate yet another novel after that in the early years of the century to come, before my expiration-date arrives, Even if fate should decree otherwise (as it has done, alas. for Italo Calvinoand Raymond Carver and Donald Barthelme and other of my distinguished contemporaries), 1 maintain a benevolentinterest jIll the future. of the art-form that I have devoted my professional life to; likewise, for that matter, in the institution of universities, in which I have agreeably spent that professional life. I have rather more confidence in the persistence of the university as an institution in the century to come than in the persistence of the novel as a medium of art

170

John Barta

l'fu:; N ovel ill the Next Cen~UJ)'

and entertainment in that century • but I'll save

my

prophesying for later in

these remarks. As for the problem: I have been preceded in the Macerate symposium by a number of distinguished scholars, critics, and novelists, from various countries - including, from the United States, my friends Robert Coover, Stanley Elkin, William Gass, and Ishmael Reed "the usual suspects," Pm tempted to say. Gifted and knowledgeable writers and thinkers every one, and although I wasn't present to bear their contributions to tlte symposium, I am acquainted enough with theol and their writings and opinions to know that they are bard acts to follow. What can I imaginably say 011 the subject of the novel in the next century, I wonder" that one or all of them and/or their counterparts from other countries will not have said already, and better? A:s soon as I put that disceuraging question to myself in those discouraging terms, I am immediately encouraged> encouraged. bY'its resemblance to the question that every thoughtful practitioner of the art of literature doubtless asks him/herself at least occasionally, and that some of us ask ourselves relentlessly from project to project The phenomenon. of the novel is many centuries old (just how many depends om.your definition)~ the medium of written litera .. ture goes back very much farther yet • at least fOUlr millenia, to an Egyptian papyrus of the Middle Kingdom complaining eloquently that language may already have been exhausted -and the institution of storytelling goes back immeasurably farther than the invention of writing. Furthermore, what applies on the macroscale of history applies also on the microscale of a writer's own career, if that writer is lucky enough to have survived this century's plenteous catastrophes and to have published, as I have, some 5,000 pages of fiction, Wbat's left to say, for me as·a working novelist and for the novel as a working
>

The text of my sermon is also Italian, from the eminent 15th-ceIiltury Roman humanist and storyteller Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciobni. Peggie's Facetiae of 1450 is a collection of mainly ribald anecdotes, from which RabeIaisand Marguerite ofNa:varre and many another writer borrowed; it has been called the world's first bestseller as well as the archetype of the modem joke. (Peggie's timing would be the envy ofa modem New York trade publisher; he scored early on the invention of movable type and before the establishment of copyright laws.) Tale LXXV of the Facetiae tells of a simpfe fellow in the' town of Camerino who desires to travel and see the world. A clever acquaintance of his, one Ridolfo (who figures in a number of'Poggio's tales), suggests, that he begin by going no farther than Macerata, not a very long distance away ..When the fellowreturns, Ridolfo says to him,
Now you have seen the entire world; What else is there 00 earth besides hills, valleys, mountains, fields both cultivated and uncultivated, woods, and forests? ,AlI these things you have now encountered, in the area between here and! there.

Ridolfo of Camerino himself; we may preS'UJI1.e, as cosmopolitan as was was
Peggie Bracciolini; only the very well-traveled are' entitled to make such

category of art and entertainment?

With that question I feel exactly as much at home as I do at my writing-table and in my own skin, and so here we go - en bocca aT lupo, I believe the Italian phrase is: into the wolf's mouth. Familiar territory.

ironic disparagements of traveling, just as only the very well-read are entitled to say, with Gustave FIaubert, that "it is enough to have read five OJ!' six books well." Reading Poggio's anecdote as 3. parable, we might say that one position to take about novels in the next century is that we scarcely need any more of them, when there are already in the existing corpus - "in the area between here and there" - more admirable specimens than the most voracious reader is likely to get through in II lifetime. If anyone takes that position, may it be in the ironic spirit of Ridolfo of Camerinoand not in the unironic s,pirit of those Muslim fundamentalists who would maintain that even Flaubert's reading list is too long; that only one book is necessary, the Koran, inasmuch as all the others either agree with it, in which case they are redundancies, Of disagree with it, in which case they are heresies.

In

173

IohnBarth

The Novel in the Next Century

As for myself, when. I consider the Story Thus Far of the novelistic "area between here and there," it occurs to me to imagine the 1990 Macerata symposium as only the latest in a series of such symposia on the subject held once every century since the founding of that ancient university and, before risking prophesy myself, to speculate on what might have been said about the novel in the next century in 1890, in. 1790, in 1690, right back to the hypothetical

in the "century" ahead - most particularly with Giovanni Boccaccio, soon to

he born, the future author of the Decameron, and Giovanni Sercambi, the future author of the Novelle - and how even more influential it would be in. the two centuries after that, with the likes of our man Poggio Bracciolini and
Matteo Bandello and Giovanni Straparola and Giambattista Basile and their ribald counterparts outside Italy, Inasmuch as cultural change of any sort was not a prominent feature of medieval times (despite the "novel" institution of universities and the fetal stirrings of the Italian Renaissance), I imagine that our panelists of 1290 would have agreed 1) that chivalric romance would continue to be the major category of narrative fiction indefinitely, in prose, in verse, and in mixtures of the two; 2) that prose fiction was not diminutive artistic stature; and 3) that even poetry is but the handmaiden of philosophy, itself but the profane sibling of theology, 'and that only the classical poets (Virgil in particular) merit consideration in university curricula and symposia. The equally unlikely Maceratasymposia of 1390, 1490. and 1590 would have agreed. The fantastical romances of King Arthur, Roland/Orlando, Amadis of Gaul, and company remained enormously popular but not a matter of curriculum. Boccaccio's Decameron was imitated everywhere as the model of racy, more or less minimalist realism, but the author himself in. his serious old age had repudiated it for its licentiousness. The Renaissance had fullII:

original gathering in 1290. Let's begin at the beginning:
The sympesiasts of 1290, gathered at the brand-new University of Mace rata, would not have found our topic intelligible • not that that ever deterred a real symposiast from holding forth. From the corpus of late-classical literature there survived a few extended prose-fictional narratives, more or less realistic, satirical,and

fragmentary, such as Petroni us's first-century Satyrtcon and

serious category of art in amy' case, so that

Apuleius's second-century Go/den Ass. There was the more recent vogue in Europe of highly fanciful chivalric romance. And ol~erin Japan there was one extraordinary, undeniable specimen of the DOvel,already 200 years. old: Murasaki Shikibu's Genji Monagati, or The Tale of Genji. But our panelists would not have heard of Baroness Murasaki, whether or not they had heard of Japan, and the noun novel (as we use it nowadays in English, Spanish, and Portuguese) wasn't yet available to them - nor for that matter was the noun

even if the novellino were to outgrow its diminutive suffix, it. would still be of

century, in the historical sense of a l00-year period called, for example, the
thirteenth century. The most we can reasonably imagine is that they might have heard of 11Novellino - the Cento novelle amiche, or 100 Old Tales - just then being collected anonymously in northern Italy: th.e collection of earthy, often satirical anecdotes that historians say gave us (us Europeans) both the literary prototype of the novel and the

name' we call it by in the languages

flowered; the noun novel had entered the English and Iberian vocabulary (the Oxford English Dictionary attests it in English to 1566), but it was applied
indiscriminately to short satirical tales and chivalric romances alike, So what lay ahead for the seventeenth century? Not even Cervantes, who was on the very verge of inventing "the novel as we know it," could have predicted to the symposium of 15-90that he was about to do so. In 1590, Cervantes was 43

mentioned above - though not in Italian, French, and German, which prefer variants of the term romance. But "novelty;" even "a hundred antique novelties," as I like to translate the Cento novelle antiche, wouldn't have had the appeal in 1290 that it has, had since the Romantic period. Even if our thirteenth-century symposiasts had heard of II Navellino; it is unlikely that they would have predicted how influential that work and that form would become

years old, a destitute war veteran, occasional poet, failed playwright, and perpetrator of the first half of a pseudo-classical pastoral romance (Primer a Parte

174

175

John Barth

Tile Novel in the Next Century

de la Galatea) of which he would never write Part Two: an. increasingly desperate scrambler already excommunicated by the church for certain irregulariof about to begin ties, about to be sent tojeil not once but two or three times for nonpayment debts, and, very possibly during one of these imprisonments,

"There we have the first reference that I lmow of to that Modernist "the death of the novel," in the same generation the dominant form of literary entertainment dawn of written literature, been pressing fending that established

theme.

the novel as

for that rapidly growing class, the scribe at the very has

reading public. One feels a. touch of deja vu: that Egyptian late. . . But note how disingenuous the successful novels published, and middle-class Richardson's Richardson

writing Don Quixote - "just the sort of thing that might be begotten in a jail, " the author himself remarks in his famous prologue
middle-aged winning combination may doubt whether to Part One. In short, a forever after with his - but one hombre on the cusp of changing literature

fretting that he may have arrived on. the scene too letter is: Lady Barbara novelist for help in getting one of her friends' from

of satiric realism and quasi fantastic adventure

is trying to say no without. ofpositions from time to novel

he himself realized the size of what he had achieved even

a lady

of the gentry, while at the same time shifting responsibility I have been in comparable it is a situation right out of an epistolary pronouncement

after he achieved it, much less before. The first written notice of Don Quixote

himself to his publisher. time, and I sympathize; Samuel Richardson. Disingenuous symposium, Richardson's

is by theauthor's

eminent compatriot

and fellow dramatist

Lope

de Vega
nor so

by

(with whom Cervantes

had. had a falling out): having read Part One in manuis as bad as Cervantes, critical foresight.

script, Lope wrote to a friend in 1604, "nopoet

or Dot, Richardson's

that the fad had passed 1790 Macerata

foolish as to praise Don Quixote. " So much for professional

was ignored by readers and writers alike. By the time ofthe the future' of the epistolary so overworked well have been questioned,

As everybody
romances that

knows,

Quixote was immediately as popular as the chivalric before. 1 find it not impossible
at that year's Macerata to

novel in the century to come might was that particular mode thanks to a robust future century.
aUF

it

satirized; by 1690 it was making its influence felt much as had symposium the next cen-

the Decameron in the several centuries imagine that some canny prognosticator might have foreseenreaderly entertainment could.

example, but no one would likely have doubted

for the novel itself as literacy spread to the masses in the nineteenth

might perhaps have forewarned

- that this novel form of because the word litdo, however, now

By

1790 even one or two upstart Americans had written novels; to

Macsome

well

achieve some

prominence in

erata symposiasts, farsighted

that would surely have signaled that anybody could now

tury

(I

say

"readerly" instead of "literary" entertainment

get away with it, and they would have been virtually participant

correct

Indeed,

erature,

in the sense of a canonical body of verbal art, doesn't enter our voyears. Our symposiasts

might have begun to worry about the audience

for po-

cabulary for another hundred-plus as European And indeed, historical

etry in the century to come; another might perhaps have noted premonitions
of a gothic revival. Would any of them, I wonder, markable distinguish Rousseau flowering of Romanticism, the famous have quite foreseen the re"inward tum" of narrative

have the word century in the sense we mean - first attested consciousness

in English

in 1638, century).

was raised in the seventeenth

"the novel as we know it" was in fact so explisively

successful

and! the general rebellion against established forms in ill the arts which would! the European 19th century? It's not impossible:

through the 1700s that one of its great English inventors, writes to Lady Barbara Montague something the fashion has passed.

Samuel Richardson, wanted

Jean-Jacques

by 1758 was already predicting its demise. "There was a time," Richardson,
that year, "when every bookseller of that kind. But Millar [RiclIardsol.1's own publisher] tells me that

was. history by 1790, and the French Revolution

was news. Goethe movement -

bad] published Kant, Herder,

The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the other German writers
whom we now call the heralds of the Romantic Schiller, E. T.

and] philosophers

A.

Hoffmann

- had done or were doing their

176

177

JohnBartb

The Novel in tile Next Century

main work

But the phenomenon was still mainly Teutonic, and suspect, op-

symptom

of its fall from

innocent

unselfconsciousness

that

the

term

erating under such aliases as "Gothicism" and "Sturm lind Drang. ," My guess is that most of the 1790 symposiasts would have concurred with Goethe's own later pronouncement: "Classicism is health; Romanticism is disease" - without it was about to suspecting how healthy the virus itself was, how contagious become; and how persistent it remains to this day. We come to 1890, with a wistful sigh. To the Macerati of 1890, the empire of prose fiction in general and of the novel in particular in the century to come would surely have seemed. as secure, for better or worse, as the British raj and the other European colonial empires. In 1890 we are at the climax of' the period of general bourgeoise literacy and the regnancy of the novel. Hugh Kenner reports thai evert ordinary English agricultural journals of the time - the

"literature" itself bad just come into use. But such news traveled more slowly back then than it does nowadays, and the fatefuJ division of the genre we're concerned with into art novels and pop' novels had scarcely begun: th.at Modernist division much remarked by Leslie Fiedler and others, which some of us who are called Postmodernists that we have yet to bridge it. Such portents were there to be read, but I daresay that no one at the Macerata symposium of 1890 could have foreseen the tum of events far more 'consequential for the future of the novel in the next century than was the Modemist polarization of novelists into, shall we say, James Joyces on the one hand and James Micheners on the other. I mean the great usurpation of the kingaspire to see bridged, though Fiedler tells us

Dairyman's Fortnightly and so forth - regularly published fiction, as did ell the
innumerable newspapers. On every level of sophistlcation, supply could scarcely keep pace with demand, and it is :important to remember that in the realm of fiction those levels of readership were happily still less demarcated than they were soon to become; less demarcated by far than were the levels of social class among readers themselves. The great novels of the nineteenth they were century were not invariably bestseUers; by and large, however,

dom of narrative by the visual, especially the electronic, media: the invention
and development first of movies and then of television and videocassettereof these (some cording; along with these, in America particularly though by no means exclusively, the ubiquitous soundtrack of rock music and the combination ism" of the "electronic global village": the very substantial
M

ingredients in MTV - from all which has followed the famous "new barbariandecline

would call it calamitous) in reading

a source of information and entertainAgain, it Public

widely read, if still not commonly accepted as proper subjects for university study. And wruing novels was almost as fashionable as reading them: A surprising number of Bonapartes, Hawthorne's for example, perpetrated novels among their other diversions (the Emperor himself did not). and we remember Nathaniel complaint about "hordes of damn'd scribbling women." What a lovely time, novelistically speaking: It is the period from which dates the stillpersisting notion that somewhere in each of us there lurks a novel waiting to be written. l'II return to this notion presently. No doubt there were in 1890 premonitory signs of trouble ahead. but who - Roland Barthes was sharp-eyed enough to see them ~or what they were? The seeds of Modernism, for example, were already sown and germinating dates "the fall of literature" from the 18S0s (i.e., from Flaubert), noting as a

ment, and the attendant, quite measurable decline in verbal skills among both students and their teachers and thence among the general population. is not a peculiarly American phenomenon, situation is more acute here than in the other developed democracies. though my impression is that the

school education in Japan and Germany, for example, is no doubt superior in most respects to ours, but my academic friends in those countries shake their heads just as we do at their students' addiction to television and their general aliteracy - and 1 noted for myself on a recent visit to Japan that among Tokyo highschool boys and young. men On commuter trains, pornographic comic books and photonovels appeared to be at least as popular as print (the girls

and young women seemed to prefer talking to one another).

178

179

John Barth

The Novel in the Next Century

We have arrived at our 1990 symposium; it is time to prophesy, and the general lines of my prediction are themselves predictable enough from my characterization of the present state of readerly affairs as it bears upon the art of and the audience for that grand old literary institution, the novel. First I'U describe, and then I'll offer some judgments upon, what I read of its future in the tea-leaves of the present, To begin with, I certainly see no grounds for imagining that the trend away from reading in general will reverse itself. On the contrary. As things stand now in the much diminished realm of prose fiction, if we leave out of account assigned reading by students and professional reading by teachers, writers, editors, reviewers, critics, and booksellers, my personal impression is that in America, at leas!" novels are still read for pleasure these days principally on resort beaches, cruise ships, and wide-body airliners. I have myself also received encouragement from readers in such outlying areas as Alaska's North Slope, in the extended c¥e facilities of hospitals, in the rear areas of various U. S. military operations, and in jail. Let me say at once that I am most gratified by these observations and report's; regardless of the literary merit of the novelists being read, for I believe that haute cuisine is likely to be better where the cuisine ordinaire is widely relished, and that the chances of turning out great opera singers or chess players (as well as opera and chess fans) are improved where lots of ordinary folk go around singing Puccini or playing chess in the public parks. Two reasons for the persistence of these last bastions of extended pleasurereading are obvious. At our present level of technology it remains inconvenient to bring: the electronic visual media to the beach, for example, andlor people in such. circumstances as those just remarked have more time on their hands than even high-tech entertainment can entirely fill. I note, however, that the novel-readers in those situations are most often the middle-aged and older, and not only because it is they who can more often afford. 1.0 be on resort beaches, cruise ships, and other extended care facilities. Their younger counterparts - what the New York Times recently [1/6/91] called "the lost book generation" - are more likely to be "wired," and I cannot decide whether it's 1800

more distressing to see them hooked on the headphones and the Tom Clancy novel simultaneously or the Sony Walkman tout c01J11 (headphones and. Chekhov would! certainly be dismaying). In the century to come, no doubt, the technological impediments to VCRs in the beach-bag or attache case will be overcome; or it may be that those surviving habitats of the endangered species of novel-readers will themselves disappear, supplanted by teleportation, say. and the seductions of computer networking and interactive electronic "virtual worlds." Of this prospect, too, more presently, as of the question whether any amount of leisure time is too large for such very-high-tech allurements. Before we leave the category of diminishing habitats, however, two others should be noted, of similar dubiety but perhaps different fragility. First, in Central and Eastern Europe, as in the Soviet Union, one imagines that for a while yet the habit will persist of looking to novelists and even poets for political-moral news unavailable via statecontrolled media (a writer-friend just back from the Soviet Union tells me that when a Russian says the word literature, he still tends to put his hand on his chest, as if about to sing an aria). But this habit can be expected to weaken as and if political conditions in those countries continue to liberalize. Philip Roth's memorable distinction between "us" and "them."will less and less apply: that in America anything goes and nothing matters, whereas behind the old Iron Curtain nothing went and therefore everything mattered - even novels, even poems. Good-bye to all that, I suppose and am obliged to hope, by 2090. Second, and somewhat analogously, it has been speculated that the future of the novel may lie in the "developing countries" - where, I presume, the electronic competition is less developed also, and where novelists might incline to address the kinds of social and political issues addressed by many of their great 19th-century predecessors. Leaving aside the possible condescension of this remark, I think it more likely than not that the social-economic "Third World" will still be with us a century hence; but to the question whether there lies the future of the novel, 1 would respond on1ythat there lies a considerable slice of its past as well.
181

John Barth .

The Novel in the Next Century

Now I'll swap my tea leaves for a crystal ball and offer the scenario for the novel in the next century that I see least dimly reflected in its pollution-enhanced mists. Not so long ago I used to see two scenarios in there, the darker of which involved thermonuclear apocalypse: The condition of the novel in the that there will be a next century. Indeed, to Postmodernism, as I have next century, after an, presupposes

special, more or less elite taste, akin to chess or equestrian dressage; most. of all to ataste for poetry, old and new, in the generations cendaney of the novel did to theaudience in general). for poetry what the ascendancy

akin
85-

since the

of

the electronic media has done to the audience for prose fiction (and for books Already in 1990, most of us "se-rious" novelists must plan our economic lives the way most poets have always had to do; we practice what the critic Earl Rovit has described as "a full-time profession that is, paradoxically,a part-time. occupation.fand do not expect to be able to live even modestly 0111 our royalty income alone. By the second half of the 21st century, it may be that even the Steven Kings and the James Micheners, the Danielle Steeles and Judith Krantzes "desktop and whoevers, wHI be obliged to do likewise; small presses will be to the publishing" and small print nmsfrom

one aspect of the movement from Modernism novel'; (a characteristically

remarked elsewhere, is that many who used to wony about "the death

of the

Modernist anxiety) have been more likely in the

last three decades to worry instead about the death of the reader, and/or of the planet. The; nuclear swords have by no means yet been beaten into plowshares, but it looks now as though we may tum our concern to theplowshares themselves, so to speak: to theattrition as apocalyptic, there being a symposium in 2090. of the biosphere. That too can be regarded in slower motion, with more hope of '.. but it's an apocalypse

21st century what poetry-by-subscription was to the 18th and 19th. In this version of the scenario, a really quite widely read new novel, even of what nowadays phenomenon we regard as the purely commercial as today's occasional sort, becomes as unusual a "literary bestseller"

1 am left therefore with only one scenario, though it comes in two flavors, the pessimistic and the guardedly optimistic. The scenario itself, as I see it, is this: The once-vast dominion of the novel, together with the even vaster do-

by Gabriel Garcia

Marquez, Umberto Eco, John. Updike, Williarru Styron. (How such exceptions are to be marketed, in the presumable absence of large trade fiction publishers

minion of printed literature ofall sorts as a medium of entertainment and edification, continues in the next century the inexorable shrinkage that we have
witnessed in ours, Nonprofessional reference and special-communication machines, and whatever technology readership keeps on declining, except for purposes. via video display terminals, fax follows them. In the more pessimistic

and institutions of distribution arid sale, is beyond my competence to imagine.)
A certain number of 'aficionados, hard-core literati, will continue to concern themselves with new fiction, just as today such "early Christians" (as Thomas Mann was already calling them in 1903) remain au courant with contemporarypoetry, But the mass of the bourgeoisie, including the "college educated," be as ignorant of and indifferent to the medium of'prose present-day counterparts with respect to the medium of'verse ..

version of'the scenario, reading and writing skills in the general population of technologically developed countries atrophy even further from lack of exerseniors mthe U.S.A (average verbal SAT scores of 424, cise, perhaps "bottoming out" at levels somewhat lower than those of today's public high-school down from 476 in 1951, on .a test that spots you 200 points virtually for spelling your name right) .• or perhaps no-t bottoming out, but regressing even farther toward an oral culture deafened by high-decibel pop music more circumambient than the !oudspeakered propaganda

will

fiction as are their

That's the pessimistic forecast: It all but precludes the likelihood of there being a symposium in 2090 on the novel in the 22nd century, though it optimistically allows that the University of Macerata, for example,

win still exist
perhaps care

on its SOOth anniversary. Before we turn to the alternative prognosis, for novelists and their publishers.

In George

Orwe!l's 1984. The

we should consider exactly why what I've just described is bad news, except Why should we (we the people)

reading of extended, even of brief, fictional narratives becomes ever more a

182

183

JobnBanb

The Novel m the Next Century

whether one particular medium of entertainment,

even of art, is supplanted by

media than by print (I know I am). Television may inspire a certain cynicism among its devotees, but it doesn't do much for critical thinking; the "couch potato" makes sarcastic comments about the programming, but he doesn't turn the set off. Reading even a spy thriller or a "bodice ripper" is much more of an activity than "grazing the channels" is. If this particular canary rea11y does go belly-up, I'm old-fashioned enough to fear forthe general civic air, The other loss is aesthetic. In the scenario as given, an elite remnant of the literate will be spared this loss (I don't imagine that libraries will disappear, for

another? Narrative literature, after all, did reasonably well before the invention

of movable type, not to mention before the rise of the novel: There was the
oral tradition for the uillettered and manuscript reading for the very small literate population; in my scenario, the former is replaced by the electronic vis-

ual media; the latter by small presses and desktop publishing. If reading any great literature for pleasure in the electronic global village becomes as fare as
reading Homer in Greek today; if the audience for the William Faulkner or the Garcia Marquez of the next century is as small and special as today's audience

James Merrill, what will we have lost? In my opinion, bur losses. will be two at least; I classify them as civil and aesthetic.
Of'

for Seamus Heaney

As for our civil loss: The ascendancy of the novel is historically associated with the ascendancy the middle class and the spread of general literacy, and those in tum, in the west at least" with the de~elopdlent of the institutions of liberal democracy and the civil state. In this area I am far from expert, and it may be that I'm mistaking correlations for causations. But it seems to me to have been democratically competition healthier back when every major American cit)', for newspapers instead of one without without a high-school example, had three or four competing

example), but I'm democratic enough to regret tbat the larger community won't be spared it. A work of prose fiction - even a slick commercial novel or a slick commercial short story (back in the days when there was still a market for those) • is a. considerably more individual, idiosyncratic affair than is a movie or a television drama. I write a nove! witb. invaluable editorial assistance from my wife, from my official editor, and from my meticulous copyedltor and her fact-checkers; that novel is published with the further assistance of and bookthe book is much more "mine" than my book's effect on designers, graphicists, printers and bind~rs., publicists, salespeople, store managers and clerks, Nevertheless, whatever directing, any film or television play can ever be its "author's": production

(my own father, a small-town storekeeper

readers it may find does not depend on the exigencies of casting, budgets, and technical staff. Far fewer contingencies

diploma" used to read four newspapers daily, from three different cities, plus the entire New York Times on Sundays), and when citizens read those newspapers, eaclt at his own pace, his own depth of understanding, of'television newsbroadcasters and his own agenda of concerns, rather than passively receiving the show-biz presentations at their pace, according to their agenda. In the same way, it seems, to me to be better mental exercise, civically healthier exercise, to be reading for pleasure - great fiction, junk flctlon, nonfiction, anything - than to sit hypnotized by that "sat~lc glass screen," as tile writer Mark but beg Helprin calls it No doubt I am being both biased and superstitious, general literacy) as a canary in the coal mines of democratic

stand between me and

my readers than stand between any dramatist and his

audience. Compared to fiction and poetry, all theater and cinema and television - even "auteur" cinema and television - is committee art: "team sports,"

Truman Capote called them. I have no quarrel with the collaborative arts; I am a failed musician myself, and know the joys- of submerging one's individuality in the ensemble, But surely we'll poorer for it if the collaborative arts come to
be all there ls. lam persuaded that it is this low-capital individual-voiceaess

cause of that historical connection I think of' the novel (and, by extension, of civil society. I have read, and I believe it, that people are more manipulable by the visual

that accounts for the runaway popularity of creative writing courses in American colleges and universities • a paradox indeed in a culture not much given to
reading.

184

185

JohnB.arth

The Nevel in the Nel(!.Cent1m'

Another reason for their popularity brings us to another kind of aesthetic loss that we'll suffer if my pessimistic scenario comes to pass. The graphic and the plastic arts, after all, may be said! to be just as "individual; as a rule, as writing is; but whereas comparatively few of us ordinary taxpayers go about our daily business imagining that inside our unprepossessing exteriors there lurks a great painting or sculpture waiting to be born, quite a few folk: imagine that they have a story to tell, even a novel, if they could only get it down on paper. Sometimes, astonishingly. they actually do - and the reason for the novel's singular hospitality to amateurs over the centuries, no doubt, is that while only a small number of people draw and carve and paint ers route to work or ar their office desks or amid their housework, nearly all of us use our language all day long; talkin.g and listening, telling how it is, hearing how it was. Now, it goes without saying that every medium 'of art has its. particular assets and limitations. The great limitation of written narrative, for example, as opposed to stage,film, and television drama, is that it deals directly with none of the physical senses. There are no literal sights, sounds, smells. tastes, and feels in a novel, only their names. This technically anesthetic aspect of writing no doubt accounts for the comparative ease with which we can be moved to physical tears, laughter" and excitement by even rather mediocre drama. and only comparatively rarely by even fust~rate writing. But this great limitation is offset - more titan offset, in my opinion - by the fact that the written word can address directly, like no other medium, the invisible universe inside the head and under the skin: the universe not of direct sensation but of sensibility; the experiencing of human experience. This incalculable asset is what is lost when people no longer read novels and stories and poems. The oral narrative tradition supplied it to some extent once upon a time, but at the sacrifice of audience control, so to speak. - and here is my point: Not only is the writing of fiction a more individually controlled enterprise than the production of visual drama; the reading of it, too, is more
jj

individually controlled than the spectating of drama.' Granted, the various buttons on our VCRs restore some measure of control to the individual auditor; but what wc"re rather awkwardly and infrequently controlling in that quite limited way is non-narrative: It lacks the mediating, selecting, registering, in,. terpreting, rendering sensibility of the narrator, as well as the irreplaceable virtues of tho written word. Visual media and even oral narrative are meals fed to us regardless of Our individual appetites and digestive capacities; the printed word we savor at our OWfll pace. So bighly do I esteem these two virtues of prose fiction - all power to the individual (relatively speaking) in both production and consumption. and direct access to the invisible universe of sensibility - that I am impelled to imagine a less pessimistic version of my scenario for the novel in the next century. Even in this happy version, the novel goes the way of the elephant and the rhinoceros - how can it not, given. the forces competing against it? But its extinction is by no means complete; the special parks and preserves in wl'lich it carries on its much-diminished life tum out to be rather less remote, precarious. and minuscule than our cultural ecologists had feared. Indeed, like the tropical rain forests and the African game reserves, the novel becomes something: of a cause, even something of a craze: Save the Whales! Hortatory Tshirts and bumperstiekers promote the cause; liter,ary Greenpeace activists stage silent read-ins and book giveaways at video rental outlets, and although their tactics alienate a few moderates, the agreeable mental exercise of readoverd.eveloped countries like the physical exercise of aerobics and off-road biking (in a recent tour of some first-rate American bookstores, I was told that- their volume of business bas been increasing lately by as much as 20010annually). Excessive televiewing comes to be regarded, and not only by the elite, as on a par with excessive alcohol consumption and single-crop agriculture. Billboards and signs on city
ing (reading fiction in particular) catches on

m the

•And it bids to become much more so with the advent of electronic "hypenex.t.· But that is another story.

186

187

John Barth

city already. every municipal bus-stop bench proclaims. perhaps quixotically, reading zone - Baltimore: the city that reads). Reading rooms spring up in our teleportation terminals, furnished nostalgically with period chipboard bookshelves from the 20th century; special no-viewing, no-listening seats are available on whatever passes for public vehicles. Even the in'esisuble virtual worlds of interactive whole-body computer simulation come to include virtual armchairs in which one can virtually read virtual novels. non-interactive except in the wonderful way that readers and writers have tradi.tio[l8l1ly interacted.
buses extol the hygienic pleasures reading (in my In these benign though to imagine, the diminished and somewhat

of

Not. on the A.uthors

John Birth is a novelist, essayist, and Professor in the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins Univ.ersity in Baltimore, MD. He is author of eleven novels. among them The Sot- Weed Factor; Last in the Funhouse: Fiction for Prin~. Tape, , Live VOjce, and LETTERS. His most recent novel is The Last Voyage qf Som~· body the Sailor, a post-modernist revision of The Thousand and One Nights.

artificial preserves,

I like literaflour-

Malcolm

Bradbury

is a novelist,

television

dramatist,

old

art

ture

in general) not

of the novel (and the much older art of written only survives tbe 21st. century but adapts, modestly

Amed~n Studies at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. the novels The History Man and RIltes of Exchange. His most series is The GI'I:n1Train, about the European Community.

and Professor of He is author of recent television

ishes, and contrives

even to evolve. To change the metaphor:

I note that Italy, more or less

Spain, France, and Great Britain, for example. though

no longer the imperial

centers that they once were, remain still distinctive,
prosperous century

important,

places. I hope the same for Russia and the United States as their
of the novel, both as

RaymOnd Federman is a novelist, poet, essayist, translator, and Professor of English. Literature at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is author
two books on poetry. and three books of criticism on Samuel include Take It or Leave It, The Voice in the Closet/IA Voir dan.r " cGblMt·a Dtbarras, and Smiles all Washington Square. His most recent of six novell,

former empires dissolve in the century to come, and I wish no less in that

Beckett. Hili novela

for the noble genre

entertainment

and as art.

novel II To Whom It May Concern.

Gill Is a novelist, ennc, and Professor of Philosophy at llnlver'lty, St. Louis. He has written two novels, Omensetter's Luck and Willi, Mast.fJ' Lonesome Wife and a collection of short stories, In the Heart 0/ tJw HIdft 01 the Country. His most recent collection of essays is The WashinJCon

wuu..

H.

HabltatiDN 1966.

0/""

WDrd. His long novel The Tunnel has been in progress since

Hulin 11 • Uterary critic and a culture entre, who has published extensively on th .• nOlion of postrnodernisrn. He is Professor of English and Comparadve LIt.rlture at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. His books include R4tIktII' bltloc,nCl; Studies in the Contemporary American Novel, The Dismemb,,,,,,,,, 0/ Orph,w: Toward a Postmodem Literature, Postmodernism:
Ihab

188

189

Jhab H(JJsan's Cultural and Literary Theory, and The Poumodem Tum: Essays in Postmodem Theory and Culture. His most recent study is, Selves at Risk: Pattems DJQuest in Contemporary American Letter.r•

Heide Zi~er is Professor of American Studies at the University of Stuttgart. She is the Director of the Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies and is currently Presidenr of the University. Her books include studies of William Faulkner, John Barth, and irony in postmodem fiction. Her most recent book is Facing Texts: Encounters Between Contemporary Writeld and Critics.

1'90

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