THE POST-MODERN AURA: The Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation by Charles Newman

THE POST-MODERN AURA: The Act of Fiction in an Age of Inflation

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Newman, novelist (The Promisekeeper, White Jazz) and editor, offers a brilliant, wide-ranging, often scathing analysis of ""post-modernist"" culture here--focusing on contemporary fiction, with economic inflation as a metaphor. His central argument: that post-modern high culture, in reaction against the prevalent, trashy popular culture, has rather callowly erected ""an ideolocracy of discomfiture, in which irony functions as the intellectual's only sentiment."" For Newman, then, the anxious energy of William Gass is ""an esthetic so fully and systematically engaged against Pseudo-art"" that it ends up as ""a system without leaks or levers: literature as a closed organism, a factory in which curiosity about what is fabricated and what is the goal of its labor, are apparently questions outside its design."" Furthermore, the post-modernist esthetic ""attempts to destroy the clich‚s of life by infibulating them with the clichi‚s of art."" And Newman also attacks related literary trends in recent decades: the half-baked Neo-Realism of John Irving and E.L. Doctorow, backward-looking yet modish too (""a funky tranquility which poses as a spurious objectivity, a simplemindedness based on the false innocence of forms""); the phony economic pieties of the book-publishing industry; the self-canonization of contemporary criticism (""The Anxiety of Non-Influence""); the insipidity of today's poetry; and those ""banal antagonists""--TV at one extreme, the university at the other. (The academy teaches literature and writing as ""an idealized form lacking content"" while television ""endlessly recirculates content. . . employing all the conventions of Realism in the distortion of real life."") Finally, then, what kind of writing does Newman favor? Fiction that remains accountable to real contemporary experience--and fiction that isn't afraid to be impure, ""sloppy,"" without fastidious boundaries. (An interesting illustration of the Newman/Gass contrast might be the success of Don DeLillo's new novel White Noise--which truly grapples with contemporary experience--and the weakness of Stanley Elkin's forthcoming The Magic Kingdom, a Gass-ian exercise in style, language, and irony.) Energetic, often eloquent, and very challenging: important reading for those concerned with the esthetics of contemporary culture--and fiction in particular.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Northwestern Univ. Press