vendredi 11 mars 2011

Philip Roth, THE FACTS (1987), in NOVELS AND OTHER NARRATIVES, 1986-1991, New York, Library of America, 2008, 767 pages.

It's even possible that the ferment inspired a month later by the publication of Goodbye, Columbus - the pulpit sermons, the household arguments, the discussions within Jewish organizations gauging my danger, all of which unexpectedly dramatized to people who were essentially nonreaders what was, after all, only a first book of short stories - might never have reached troublesome proportions had "Defender of the Faith" been certified as permissible Jewish discourse by appearing in Commentary. And had that happened - had there not been the inflammatory fanfare of the New Yorker exposure, had Goodbye, Columbus had the innocuous cultural fate of a minor critical success - it's likely that my alleged anti-Semitism might never have comme to pervade the discussion of my work, stimulating me to defend myself in essays and public adresses and, when I decided to take things more aggressively in hand, to strike back at accusations that I had divulged Jewish secrets and vulgarly falsified Jewish lives by upping the ante in Portnoy's Complaint. That was not mistaken for a conciliatory act, and the ramifications of the uproar it fomented eventually inspired me to crystallize the public feud into the drama of internal family dissenssion that's the backbone of the Zuckerman series, which began to take shape some eight years later.
(p. 398)

mardi 8 mars 2011

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

From Irving and Longfellow to James and beyond, one of the symptoms of friction between the American writer and his public has been his tendency to write about writing - to write poems about poems and fiction about novelists. Though such works vary widely in tone from defensiveness to a guilty deprecation of art itself, they all derive from the sense that the writer is different from people and that people resent him for it. He has often attempted to minimize that difference, as Poe did when he described the writing of "The Raven" as a purely rational process. Just as often he has allied himself with people against writers. It is a sure sense that impels a James Whitcomb Riley to attack poets and a Herman Wouk to make villains of artist and intellectuals.
Melville, like Henry James in his short stories of the nineties, took the offensive, and, particularly in Pierre, made the embattled genius a hero and a martyr. This is the book which shut him off from any further serious consideration by contemporary critics, and the public's rejection of it was conclusive: it took Harpers 35 years to sell 1,800 copies. Considering Melville's original intention in writing it, it was an incredibly blundering and perverse performance for a professional writer.
(p. 273)

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

But in Pierre the narrator is an intrusive nuisance. And he is most intrusive in the sections on authorship where he pretends to be exhibiting his hero's unspoken reflections on the creative life. In his artificial attempt to connect the story of Pierre's disillusionment as moral man with the story of his writing career, he commits the final perversity of rendering him disilusioned about the art of fiction. For the young author's despairing conviction that his finished book is a stacked deck ("he was but packing one set the more"), he was inviting the reader to share what was apparently his own loss of faith in fiction itself. If, as Charles Feidelson has argued, Melville wrote himself out of his belief in his craft, Pierre's suicide can be taken as a symbol of Melville's professional self-destruction.
(p. 253)

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

In discussing the problems and the status of the artist, Melville once again tried to involved his readers in the creative process. And in describing Pierre's conflict with the publishing and reading world, he made the author the hero and the reader the villain. One notes that genuinely commercial writers sometimes flatter the public by reversing the formula: in our own time the fictional villain is often an "aesthete" or an "intellectual."
Melville here seems to take perverse satisfaction in abusing, satirizing, and insulting the reading public and its representatives - editors and publishers. He excoriates the kind of novels that they make popular. He accuses them of "unforgiveable affronts and insults" to great authors like Dante in the past; of missing the "deeper meanings" of Shakespeare; of judging literature as they do morals; of praising an author's worst books, or liking his best ones for the wrong reasons. The publishers who serve them are thievish illiterates. In short, "though the world worship Mediocrity and Common Place, yet hath it fire and sword for all contemporary Grandeur." But bad as the present is (it is a "bantering, barren and prosaic heartless age," which will not tolerate the serious), the future will be worse, for it will see "the mass of humanity reduced to none level of dotage."
Concomitantly, the author-hero is presented as a full-blown example of the Genius temperament. For this aspect of Pierre Melville disinterred Lombardo from chapter CLXXX of Mardi, reappropriating many of the latter's concepts of art and authorship. Using some of Lombardo's phraseology, he made Pierre his nineteenth-century counterpart - a youth dedicated, lonely, divinely inspired, poverty-stricken, suffering, misunderstood, ruining his health by loong hours of exhausting creativity in an ice-cold room. That a character as morally and morbidly diseased as the reviewers thought Pierre was, should also have been a genius, set apart from and above the stupid public that crucified him, did little to improve the reader's already pejorative image of the creative writer.

(p. 252-253)

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville's one unquestionably great full-length book, has never been properly understood as the work of a writer who was in a state of creative tension with a reading public whose limitations he had at last defined. Many of its devices, and to some extent its form and its greatness, can be explained in terms of that tension - a tension which was a crucial factor in the creation of Poe's major tales, Hawthorne's novels, Emerson's lectures, Huckleberry Finn, and The Turn of the Screw. All were products of a balance of the author's wish to express himself and yet to be bought and read and taken seriously. If this hypothesis seems to make the general reader in the nineteenth century a partner in the creation of some of America's greatest art, the compliment must be diluted by the fact that some of these works were commercial failures, that some were misunderstood, and some valued for the wrong reasons.
(p. 240-241)

lundi 7 mars 2011

Sergio Perosa, AMERICAN THEORIES OF THE NOVEL: 1793-1903, New York, New York University, 1983, 243 pages.

In the more specific Preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851), the romance is distinguished from the novel in terms of its greater freedom and "latitude" in the choice of materials as well as of form:

  • When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly to be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former - while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart - has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture. he will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of the priviledges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the Marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public. He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime even if he disregard this caution.
(p. 54-55)