9. Conclusion: Only the myth lives in myth
In myth there is no life for us
When the literary history of the twentieth century is ultimately written, it is likely that the distinctive spirit of the literature of our day, both in theory and in practice, will be found to depend upon two factors: the emphasis on literary structure already mentioned and an unusual awareness of the linguistic medium itself.
Charles Feidelson, Symbolism and American Literature
[W]hy revert to myth?... This ideational rubbish out of which our world has erected its cultural edifice is now, by a critical irony, being given its poetic immolation, its mythos, through a kind of writing which, because it is of the disease and therefore beyond, clears the ground for fresh superstructures. (In my own mind the thought of 'fresh superstructures' is abhorrent, but this is merely the awareness of a process and not the process itself.) Actually, in process, I believe with each line I write that I am scouring the womb, giving it a curette, as it were. Behind this process lies the idea not of 'edifice' and 'superstructure,' which is culture and hence false, but of continuous birth, renewal, life, life.... In myth there is no life for us. Only the myth lives in myth.
Henry Miller, Hamlet
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Outside Modernism's narrow genealogy
What Feidelson called "the distinctive spirit of the literature of our day," what I have called "New Critical modernism," was never the aesthetic program of any but a minority of writers and critics. Nevertheless, it has so dominated this century's view of its literature and the literature of centuries past that only recently have literary institutions--by which I intend not only the academy, but also the more wide-reaching literary magazines and reviews--attempted to name what "myth" and "symbol" and "irony" derided. If amidst these recent developments we find ourselves in a better position than either Miller or Feidelson to imagine the historical outlines of twentieth-century British-American literature, that history does not appear an inventory of "other," "better," "more representative" books written between 1900 and the present, but an account of the making, and perhaps only now, the unmaking, of New Critical modernism. In the alternative, it appears the story of all that transpired in agonistic relation to its hegemony.
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Judgment is a matter of literary criticism, not literary history
This conviction has animated my local study in the history of the modern novel and its central central contention that Miller's "undisciplined" expatriate narratives, Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939), are not simply marginal to our received genealogy of the novel, but have been marginalized by the successful aesthetic polemics of his contemporaries--the coalition of writers and critics who in the 1920s and 1930s secured the eventual hegemony of New Critical modernism by setting the agenda for subsequent interrogation of the meaning, structure, and discipline of the novel form. Under the mode of rhetorical analysis I have pursued it appears no accident that techniques of symbolic, perspectival, and mythic analysis, applied to Joyce's literary practice, discover the meaning, order, and textual unity that make Ulysses the paradigmatic Modern Novel, whereas the same modes of analysis, applied to Miller's narrative method, turn up only partial structures, discovering, that is, "incomplete," "bad," or at best "curious" modernist texts. The formal coherence of Miller's expatriate works appears only as they are read historically as polemical efforts to redirect "The Revolution of the Word." In reply to T. S. Eliot's denigration of "narrative method" in favor of "mythic method," Miller advanced a radically digressive narrative resistant to symbolic integration. He cultivated a "fluid imbalance" to counter the "equilibrium of opposed impulses" I. A. Richards offered as "the ground-plan of the most valuable aesthetic responses," and his quotidian history of a "cosmos--on the flat" opposed Stuart Gilbert and Louis Gillet's idealization of the "vertical" structure of Joyce's "extra-temporal history."
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The Novel is a shared rhetoric
It is not The Novel's "relation to the society that produces and consumes it" that literary history is called upon to explain; each novel and every critical genealogy offers a rival vision of that relation. Nor is it the task of literary history to examine social history and choose the true genealogy of the historical genre from among the pretenders; again, each novel and every critical genealogy does just that. Rather, the horizon of literary history, as a branch of cultural history, is to explain this debate, this persistent literary and critical argument over the historicity of the true novel form. It is this larger task of embedding fictions of history in history which requires that literary history first differentiate itself from the familiar activities of literary criticism, the historicity--the "unnaturalness"--of which it is called upon to explain. Literary history is thus first of all the history of the discourse of the novel, a discourse constituted by rival claims to have represented and embodied in fictive form the significant elements and forces of the historical moment.
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The Problem of the Text: our moment in the discourse of the novel
The problem of the Text is of our moment in the discourse of the novel. It is now not possible to wish it away by renewed invocations of the "facts" of history and the author's biography. For the text is precisely that object of analysis that can invite such facts back in as a "guest" at the Text's "performance." The task of a history of the novel is to approach the Text, in conjunction with other texts, not as an object of critical knowledge to be seized more firmly and completely, nor as a pleasurable "stroll in a difference repeatable only as difference," but as an aggregate of "incidents," of "codes that are known," to be relocated in a history of literary production and consumption, of speech and interpretation, such that the Text's present "plurality" becomes visible as a moment in a disputatious discourse which has not come to an end.
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Conclusion: Only the myth lives in myth - Notes
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