Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Big Idea, or a bunch of small ones hidden in the details?

Steinbeck is of the generation that arrives just after the Muckrakers,Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, Sinclair Lewis, who thought that fiction was something of a sociological/anthropological tool in getting at the skewed relations between races and classes in a capitalist economy. Some larger truth, discovered by a focus imagination, could get beyond supposition and provide the correct vision for reform. Steinbeck had the spirit of reformer as well and sought to give an unsentimental account of the working poor in this country; but sentimental he remained, a quality that mired much of his other work besides Grapes of Wrath.

His drive to give the truth in story form needed to be fueled by tangible emotion, and so his tales take on familiar rise-and-fall themes we find in conventional tragedy.Thomas Pynchon is perhaps the novelist version of Chaos Theory, which is to say that all is not chaos at all but rather that the relationships between all narrative angles, as in the relationships between all biological systems, are far more intricate and intertwined than a conventional accounting would have us know. Pynchon steps back several yards from his subject and masters the rhetoric of any style he fancies to pay attention too, and is able to grasp the eternal absurdities of plot lines are made to perform. His aim, I guess, is to the notion of Grand Narrative is actually too modest a term; the tale that's told has multitudeVery post-modern, I'd say, but it's disturbing to think that men and women who are nominally good writers can fill up pages and bandwidth with a tweaked yammering that exists only to avoid the ideas they begin with in the subject line. This is very much like Samuel Beckett's novels, Malloy, Malone, The Lost Ones, More Pricks than Kicks, and here we have the link with the Late Modernism that had the creator (author) and subject (novel) rising , in their unperishable need to produce, from the noisy clash and clutter of an aesthetic philosophy that demanded new ways of putting the world together, of making the world non-liner and multi-valent, sufficiently prepared to be remade with technology and criteria. The point for many is that bleeding-edge writing has been around long enough -- since after WWll, I believe-- for a useful literary criteria to arise around it. The re-making and the re-re-making of those values are generally extensions, elaborations or, more radically, severe disagreements with standards that formed around a work while in nascent form. Modernism, as an aesthetic movement, among scads of others in history, had it's propagandists in it's early time, critics whose views remain bed rock, the base from which reformations are made.

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