Still Trying to Make Sense of the Trauma

The texts’ narrative amorphousness and mixed media — what Randall calls “hybrid forms” (3) and what Daniel Davis Wood calls a revival of the avant-garde nouveau Roman post WWII European postmodernism — clearly represent the unsure approach to new ways to make sense of the trauma. The canon of such experimental 9/11 fiction is continually being set by cultural and literary critics.

My remarks on the rebirth of the nouveau roman cited in an MA thesis by Brian J. Phelps.

Unchanging

The Captain America narrative has never changed.

Sure, there were some slightly different nuances here and there, but for the most part, he was the same man. I knew who he was, I knew he was going to win at the end of the day and I knew he wasn’t going to be dead forever. That’s not how comics work. In comics the hero never changes. He is predictable, unchanging and static in time. There is no ageing, no permanent dying, they are never losing for long and all comics end with the showdown of good verses evil and good will eventually, even if it takes some time, win. The superhero is someone we deeply trust.

The superhero narratives are the modern American mythology.

Over at Policy Mic, Adam Hogue uses my review of the work of Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence to explore the cultural mythology surrounding the figure of the comic-book superhero.

Towards Understanding

First published in 1940, Walter van Tilburg Clark’s The Oxbow Incident is an example of a literary western novel — that is, not a mass-market work. Clark’s novel presented the American West and the western hero in a very different light. The novel focuses on the violence inherent in the history and mythology of the West. Clark tells the story of a lynching and the subsequent guilt and regret exhibited by Art Croft who participated in it. Croft, the narrator of the novel, and the reader both undergo the same epiphany, which involves ultimately coming to terms with the violence and vigilante nature of the lynching, seeing it not as heroic but as something to be overcome. Daniel Davis Wood sums it up in his review of this book, saying that only “when the human being inside the narrator overpowers the animal whose instincts led him to join the pack” can one begin to understand how violence dehumanizes us. Only with this understanding, can the narrator (and the reader) begin the “journey toward apology and feeble restitution.”

Dee Bakker adopts my view of The Ox-Bow Incident in order to situate the novel within the broader context of the literature of the American West.

Decline and Fall

Like the best examples of the genre [of the ‘decline of literary criticism’ polemic], [Gideon] Haigh’s glints with aphorisms, but it is also typically brief when it comes to articulating what is at stake. His piece informed a debate on Australian literary reviewing late in 2010, hosted by the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The participants were Haigh, Peter Craven, Kill Your Darlings editor Rebecca Starford, and Hilary McPhee. The conversation spilled into print and came to focus on the relative merits of traditional print and new online forums for criticism. Craven had spoken against literary blogs and Geordie Williamson, writing just before the Wheeler event, was also dismissive. Rebecca Starford and Daniel Wood pointed to new possibilities. The divide, however, did not correspond to each commentator’s sense of the health of reviewing. Craven and Wood were firmly in the ‘decline’ camp (Wood quipped that ‘Australian literary criticism has indeed declined in quality — but it has declined from a zenith of mediocrity into the depths of abject uselessness’); Stafford and Williamson looked, in different ways, to the positive.

Reviving my comments on the low standards of literary criticism in Australia, Ben Etherington weaves them into a fascinating consideration of the critical reception of Anna Funder’s All That I Am.

Confusions

People also create their own personal definitions of what literary fiction is. Nathan Bransford clarifies on his blog that “In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.” Another blog author gives one of the most confusing definitions of literary fiction I’ve ever read. Daniel Davis Wood states that “literary fiction is exactly what the adjective ‘literary’ suggests: not a work of fiction that possesses a certain set of “literary” freedoms, but a work of fiction that makes an issue of its own nature as literature, its very literariness. It is irreducibly literary, and therefore utterly unable to be translated into any alternative artform.”

My words cited in a discussion of literary fiction on Cara Reads.