9. Conclusion: Only the myth lives in myth

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.

A shared rhetoric rather than a static, accepted theory of the genre, this discourse "unfolds externally" (Bakhtin), to be followed not so much within texts as between texts where, through the clash of value and interpretation, relations among novels and theories of history are arranged and rearranged over time, their very appearance or non-appearance as Literature, as History, constantly adjudicated.[2] Understood as a product of this shifting, contentious discourse to which both writers and critics lend their voices, the Text, that problematic object of much contemporary literary criticism, assumes a distinctly temporal dimension. An "irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural," "not a co-existence of meanings but a passage, an overcrossing," "the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifiers," Roland Barthes's Text is a historical product, the history of which has been effaced before the eye of the literary critic, who takes in as an eternally present "plurality" the perceptible residue of the serried meanings and positions assigned to an author's work by the revisionary discourse in which he has participated. Barthes's "intertextuality" is thus a mystification of a history of critical and literary contention; his "performance" of the Text's plurality, a rehearsal of the history of its readings as if history were over and the critic wandering beyond. To recover that history in its temporal particularity it is necessary to abandon the spatial and structural metaphors that aggregate temporal phenomena, projecting successive understandings of the meaning and structure of literary artifacts into an absurdly ponderous, retentive memory--Text, Language. The "Text" may be "held in language," but whose?--whose text? whose language? The plurality Barthes ascribes to the Text must be reattributed: to the critics and writers who performed readings and interpretive rewritings, not to enhance Barthes's "certain feeling of unfamiliarity" at the imagined end of history, but to wrest their genre's contemporary meaning from other critics and writers intent upon the same.

In seeking to answer the questions, whose text? whose language? a literary history attentive to the discourse of the novel inevitably produces what may be called "readings of the text." The measure of these readings, however, is not, as it is for literary criticism, a successful totalization in which every textual aspect is subsumed under a single hermeneutic, nor a successful "explosion" of the work into a "multiple, irreducible, [...] disconnected, heterogeneous variety of substances and perspectives."[3] Rather, the question to be asked of the historical reading is whether it contributes to an explanation of the successive, and competing, totalizations and explosions of the text that constitute its history as an object of critical debate. My reading recovers in Miller's Paris narratives a coherent polemic against Ulysses as polemically interpreted by Eliot, transition, Gilbert, Wilson, and even Joyce. At the same time it illuminates how the literary critical forces unleashed by New Critical modernism and Miller's subsequent career have rendered his polemics of the 1930s incoherent or illegible. Readings of Miller's narratives that do not illuminate the mode and consequences of his participation in the twentieth-century discourse of the novel may well be critical, and, as such, persuasive, but they are not historical.

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