1. The Historical Genre: Critical and Practical Discourse

The Historical Genre: Crititical and Practical Discourse - Notes

1 First Epigraph: Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel: A historic-philosophical essay on the forms of great epic literature, trans., Anna Bostock (1971; Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1973), 72-73, 73. "It first appeared in Max Dessoir's Zeitschrift für Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kuntstwissenschaft in 1916 and was published in book form by P. Cassirer, Berlin, in 1920."--Author's Preface, 1962. Second Epigraph: T. S. Eliot, "'Ulysses', Order, and Myth," Dial, November 1923, in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and Farrar, Straus and Giroux--A Harvest/Noonday Book, 1975), 177. Third Epigraph: Harry Crosby, et. al., transition 13/14 (1928): 231. Fourth Epigraph: Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (Paris: The Obelisk Press, 1934; New York: Grove Press, 1961; New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 1-2.

2 Lukács' later Marxism qualified, without undoing, his early, Hegelian treatment of the novel's special character. The Theory of the Novel locates the novel's difference in form; Studies in European Realism rediscovers that difference in the novel's historical content and in the great novelist's drive to represent the truth of what he sees though it contradicts his political ideology.

3 For Lukács, the typology of the novel form is a chronology, and its chronology a typology. The reversibility of this relation between typology and chronology, between synchronic and diachronic analysis, is what makes the novel intrinsically historical in Lukács' eyes. This reversibility, however, depends upon a rather strict construction of what constitutes "poetry" and a correspondingly lax delimitation of the "novel." It requires, for example, the exclusion of "sentimental poesy" from the Romantic canon, when one could with similar plausibility limit the novel to texts with an omniscient narrator, in which case the novel's being could equally be said to "reside in the finished form"--with all residual, novel-like writing constituting another genre, or just "scribbling" on the margins of the true art of the novel.

4 With the exception of poetry, Lukács does not discuss his "other genres." One is left to surmise drama, the tale, the story, etc., but his distinction between the novel and "other genres" is sufficiently catagoric that there is nothing to prevent one from adding to this list. That Lukács does not allow for the novel's supersession by film (and radio and television) as the hegemonic genre/medium of bourgeois culture is a failure of theory--hypostatizing the present as the future--not foresight. Lukács' academic focus on established genres, rather than the field of representational modes, ought be compared with the perspicuity of many novelists, particularly American novelists, who, with the advantage of a few years, were quick to perceive the genuinely threatening alternative film posed to the hegemony of novel. Beginning at least with Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the ambitious novel might be said to tend toward, or actively resist, a form readily translated to the screen.

5 With the translation of his writings, M. M. Bakhtin has emerged in the West as a favored theoretician of the "novelness" of the novel, usurping the position once held by Georg Lukács. Bakhtin's greater interest in linguistic and tropological theory promises to sustain him in the British-American critical eye. But technical sophistication aside, his idealization of the novel as a "special" genre distinct from all others is little different than Lukács' "normative being of becoming." Although Bakhtin, in contradistinction to Lukács, allows that "other genres" might once have had the formal flexibility of the novel, this hypothetical similarity is of little consequence since the "primordial process of their formation lies outside historical documented observation." As far as History is concerned the "novel is the only developing genre and therefore it reflects more deeply, more essentially, more sensitively and rapidly, reality itself in the process of its unfolding. Only that which is itself developing can comprehend development as a process." M. M. Bakhtin, "Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel" (1941), in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, ed. Michael Holquist (1981; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 3, 7. Bakhtin's theories of literary and ideological history, rooted in his championing of novelistic discourse over Formalist poetics, borrow rhetorical force in much the same fashion as Lukács' The Theory of the Novel, by codifying the meta-fiction novelists and critics of the novel have always used to privilege the novel over all other genres.

6 Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, 41.

7 One need only recall William Blake, who used both epic and lyric poetry to similar ends. His "Songs of Innocence" (1789) and "Songs of Experience" (1794), marking the advent of the French Revolution and its aftermath, forged the uncreated conscience of a race of English poets and schoolboys as surely as any epic, ancient or modern, poetic or novelistic.

8 Jacques Derrida, "The Law of Genre," trans. Avital Ronell, in Critical Inquiry 7 (Autumn 1980): 59. Derrida states the "law of the law of genre" as "a principle of contamination, a law of impurity, a parasitical economy. [....] With the inevitable dividing of the trait that marks membership, the boundary of the set comes to form, by invagination, an internal pocket larger than the whole; and the outcome of this division and of this abounding remains as singular as it is limitless" (59). This "law of the law" holds generally, whenever an extended, temporal series of differentially deployed oppositions are subsumed under a universal, spatial scheme of classification.

9 T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, 38-39.

10 George Eliot, Middlemarch (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company-Riverside Edition, 1968), 3, 612-613. Originally published in eight parts, 1871-1872.

11 George Eliot, Middlemarch, 104-105.

12 Henry James, "The Future of the Novel," in Henry James, Literary Criticism, Vol. I, ed. Leon Edel and Mark Wilson (New York: Library of America 1984), 106, 107.

13 Henry James, "The Art of Fiction," in Henry James, Literary Criticism, Vol. I, 56.

14 Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929), 184-185.

15 Among the promising uncertainties shaping the novel in the twentieth century is the rising academicization of novel criticism, as discussed in the next chapter.

16 Despite the dangers of periodization, a literary history of the novel cannot succumb to the fallacious supposition of a flat rate of incremental, undirected textual repetition and variation, as if the rhetoric of "progress," "revolution," "tradition," and "movement" were mere rhetoric without imaginative consequence for writers and readers. If there has never been a shortage of individual novelists willing to challenge accepted forms, and invoke historical change to do so, there remains, nevertheless, the question of their visibility, that is, the varying recognition and authority accorded such polemics at different moments in the novel's history. Periodizations are critically unstable for precisely the same reason that the novel's generic boundaries are unstable: "The Novel" and its past are products of social persuasion, subject to the vicissitudes of discourse amongst writers, critics, and readers, and not susceptible to the empiricism of a science of the text and the library. Although is no set of textual traits capable of making meaningful distinctions between "pre-modern," "proto-modern," "modern," "anti-modern," and "post-modern" works, the consequences of the literary and critical movements of the 1920s and 1930s for our modes of reading and writing fiction are not thereby erased from history. The proliferation of the meta-fiction of the novel in the early decades of the twentieth-century is a sign of an event as social as it was imaginative, as ideological as it was productive. The task of literary history not dissolve this and other literary events into the errors of nominalism, but to narrate the terms, functions, and effects of novelists' and critics' incessant redefinition and reperiodization of their "the historical genre."

17 Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, 152-153.

18 Letter to Anaïs Nin, March 1934, in Henry Miller: Letters to Anaïs Nin, ed. Gunther Stuhlmann (1965; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons-Capricorn Books, 1976), 130; also 290, 295 for evidence of Miller's continued interest in Faulkner.

19 See Edmund Wilson, Axel's Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 (1931; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969). Wilson took note of Paul Valéry's prediction that "as radio, moving pictures and television come to take the place of books as means of affecting people's feelings and ideas, literature, as we have known it in the past, may become "as obsolete and as far removed from life and practice as geomancy, the heraldic art and the science of falconry" (284). Although Wilson correctly attributes Valéry's pessimism to a particular literary ideology and poetic sensibility, Valéry's gamesmanship participates more generally in an effort to salvage a residual authority for literature at a moment when textual and static visual arts first faced the full challenge of the new technological media. Literature as a game is a meta-fiction of last resort; one under which the novel continues to claim to embody and represent historical reality, albeit as an elite "game" in a world where reality itself appears a "game" of ideological propaganda. Less pessimistic than Valéry, but responding to the same pressures, both the New Critical poeticization of the novel and the return of such writers as Faulkner and Miller to "storytelling" modes may be understood as attempts to circumvent film's apparent preemption of the ground the realist/naturalist novel occupied in revealing character through physiognomy and social life through scenic description.

20 Raymond Williams, Keywords (1976; New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 117.

21 The manifesto, "The Revolution of the Word Proclamation," in transition 16/17 (1929): 1, bears comparison with the "manifesto" of Russian Formalism, Shklovskii's "The Resurrection of the Word" (Originally Voskreshenie slova [Petersburg: 1914]). M. M. Bakhtin summarizes Shklovskii:

A look through Shklovskii's brochure gives the impression that it is the manifesto of a definite literary school rather than the beginning of a new movement in literary scholarship. [....] These theoretical opinions, expressed in artistic programs, declar­ations, and declarative articles, were not a part of scholarship, but of literature itself, directly serving the artistic interests of the various struggling schools and movements.
(M. M. Bakhtin/P. M. Medvedev, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Introduction to Sociological Poetics [1928]; trans. Albert J. Wehrle [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985], 55, 57.)

Bakhtin denounces the close kinship between Russian critical and literary movements as an aberration, a failure in need of correction, where I find this relation to be the norm: literary criticism is both "a part of scholarship" and a part of "literature itself." It is literary history, not literary criticism, that must distance itself from aesthetic partisanship, not through some more noble, disinterested scholarly "objectivity", but as a matter of course, simply because literary history takes both literary criticism and literary practice as objects of inquiry.

22 Eugene Jolas, et. al., "The Revolution of the Word Proclamation," transition 16/17 (1929): 1. Reprinted in Dougald McMillan, transition: The History of a Literary Era, 1927-1938 (New York: George Braziller, 1976), 49. McMillan concludes that Eugene Jolas was the author: the signatories were Kay Boyle, Whit Burnett, Hart Crane, Caresse Crosby, Harry Crosby, Martha Foley, Stuart Gilbert, A. L. Gillespie, Leigh Hoffman, Eugene Jolas, Elliot Paul, Douglas Rigby, Theo Rutra [pseud. Eugene Jolas], Robert Saga, Harold J. Salemson, and Laurence Vail.

23 Eugene Jolas, et. al., "Poetry is Vertical," transition 21 (1932): 148-149. Reprinted in Dougald McMillan, transition: The History of a Literary Era, 1927-1938 (New York: George Braziller, 1976), 66. McMillan concludes that Eugene Jolas was the primary author: the signatories were Hans Arp, Samuel Beckett, Carl Einstein, Eugene Jolas, Thomas McGreevy, Georges Pelorson, Theo Rutra [pseud. Eugene Jolas], James J. Sweeney, and Ronald Symond.

24 Antonio Gramsci, "The Modern Prince," in Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 181-182.

25 Even those who acclaim the plurality of the text and of interpretation stop short of embracing all texts and all critics. They inevitably find some texts and some critics more "plural" than others.

26 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans., Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, 12. In this fashion "The Novel" tends to dominate various sub-genres--romance, science fiction, detective fiction, ethnic fiction, pornography--though each of these has a "lineage" arguably as long as what we think the genre proper, and each of these, at different moments, has contributed to shaping genre as a whole.

27 It was with difficulty that Miller made himself known in the expatriate community of Paris in the late 1930s. Although small magazines and small publishing presses remained eager to take on another experimental modernist writer, by the time Tropic of Cancer was published the local struggle to determine the course of modernism was already won, Modernism having already reached beyond Paris and its years of more open access. As Edmund Wilson noted in his review of Tropic of Cancer, ""Twilight of the Expatriates": "A book bound in paper and published in Paris has no chance against a book bound in cloth and brought out by a New York publisher, who will buy space to announce its appearance" ("Twilight of the Expatriates," The New Republic [March 9, 1933]; reprinted in Edmund Wilson, A Literary Chronicle: 1920-1950 [Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company-Doubleday Anchor Books, n.d.], 212. This collection of Wilson's essays is derived from Classics and Commercials [New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1950] and Shores of Light [New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1952]).

28 I use the term "canon" loosely with respect to novels. Any "canon" of great novels is more properly a "genealogy"--less a timeless body of "sainted" writers and works than a retrospective, linear, or at most dialectical, account of the novel's progress from origin to present.

29 This list is suggestive rather than definitive. Others might as well have been included, and the fortunes of these have fluctuated.

30 Van Wyck Brooks, "On Creating a Usable Past," The Dial (April 11, 1918), 337-341.

31 Van Wyck Brooks' frighteningly Oedipal account of an "older generation delighting in cutting off the supplies of the younger" leads one to suspect Freud as the direct, if misunderstood, inspiration for Brooks' "usable past"--the wish-fulfilling substitution of desired parents for the perceived debilities of his generation's actual literary parents.

32 In this respect The Theory of the Novel exemplifies one of the characteristic tendencies of all theory, as opposed to historical analysis, which is to collapse multiple, interactive discourses--each of which proceeds at its own pace, at times commensurate with, at times disjunct from, its near cousins--into one hypostatized, conceptual space. The result is that theoretical analysis almost invariably takes as its object a set of structured relations existing in its entirety nowhere in time.

33 The critical renovation of Charles Dickens, which over the last two decades has made him, alongside Arthur Conan Doyle, the newest of the "post-moderns," exemplifies this dynamic to the extent that we see, correspondingly, ambitious novelists employing his techniques of social caricature and episodic, information-laden plotting, rather than the psychological depth-symbolism typifying much of New Critical modernism. Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer's "nineteenth-century novel," is a case in point, a brief, but markedly successful departure from his established practice.

34 Unless disrupted by the equivalent of another "Revolution of the Word"--another claim that the passage of time requires a radical departure in novel form--the inherent tendency of Van Wyck Brooks' "usable past" is to push back the onset of Modernism, rereading all of literature in Modernism's image until the notion that history is at the heart of the novel's form is strained to the breaking point. In place of a genealogy of the novel, this revisionary process eventually produces a canon of great works, as Modernism, under whatever name, discovers its methods and values to be timeless, and "the historical genre" an exposition of Language rather than History.

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