By Warner Berthoff
Probes postwar American writers' abandonment of distinguishing good points of literary workmanship in writings seen as testaments of private survival and displays at the customers of literature in a time of cultural hindrance and go with the flow
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Extra resources for A Literature Without Qualities: American Writing Since 1945
Typically, in any event, she makes a poi11t of prese11ting the story told in them as one with special clairr1s on her atten tion (and thus 011 ot1rs); a story accide11tally delivered to her whe11 for once the barrier dividing her life from the lives of the students she was teaching was broken through and co11ditions of conte1nporary existence norn1ally unreported and inaccessible to report came to light. So in her own nlind her first obligation as novelist was to take \vhat she had dis covered and force it past the incomprehension of that ordinary book-buying readership which ap preciatively patronizes ''good'' writing a11d takes easy credit for its liberal cultivation in dc)ing so.
These framing circumstances of contemporary thought and work are outlined as efficiently as any where (within the limits of my own current reading) in an account by Fredric Jameson of the whole un precedented modern situation. 1 9 Summarizing the writer's predicament under the cumulative pressure of modern life, Jameson formalizes a set of ap prehensions which, though Marxist in a generalized sense, are not confined to a single ideological perspective. He speaks of an essential ''fear and re vulsion [the ''fear and loathing'' of current jour nalese] before the new and ever more systematized conditions of industrial society''; of ''the atomization and disintegration of the older and more traditional collective groups and social modes''; of a profound and unnerving ''split between public institutions and private experience''; and-psychologically, morally-of a ''monadization and subjectification of individual existence,'' a ''degradation'' of personal Ma1ep111an.
I t under lies the compulsion toward silence that we identify with syn-1bolisn-ie and with the Mallarn1e whom Low ell came to ad1nire for havi11g invented ''a style that made writing impossible"; 16 it is continued in Beckett's rigorous pursuit of LESSNESS, or of a final imaginative leap so violently undertaken that it accomplishes its own extinction (Imagination Dead! Imagine). Such minimalism, as it forces itself on American writing in the ernbattled 1960s, has impor tant native precedents as well.
A Literature Without Qualities: American Writing Since 1945 by Warner Berthoff