NEW HEAVEN, NEW EARTH by Joyce Carol Oates


The Visionary Experience In Literature
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            Oates’ view of art as mystic experience produces a rigid, constrictive framework for analysis that discriminates against individualism, personality, and the romantic tradition.  “Art,” she contends, “is the sacralizing of its subject,” and therefore iconoclasm may be perceived as failure, limitation, or even neurosis.  Much of contemporary poetry and fiction in her opinion is “fixated…upon the childhood fears of annihilation, persecution, the helplessness we have all experienced…”  So much for Robbe-Grillet, Pynchon, Barthelme, Purdy, Barth.  And so much for Sylvia Plath who is “more honest than we would like” anyway.  Alternatively, we have this somewhat overwritten, over-sacralized Lawrentian ideal:  “it was his life’s pilgrimage to break through the confines of the static, self-consuming self in order to experience the unfathomable power that transcended his own knowledge of himself.”  The nine essays in this collection, previously published in prestigious literary journals, also include rather pedestrian commentaries on the later James and Virginia Woolf, Beckett’s trilogy, Flannery O’Connor’s Catholicism, Norman Mailer’s “energetic Manichaenism” (which “forbids a higher art”).  Oates’ last word is on “Kafka’s Paradise” – a Taoistic conception of that tortured genius as not a tragic but a religious writer, non-egoistic and beyond Good and Evil.  As criticism, this is windy sermonizing at the expense of the integrity of art, artist, and the creative process.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1974
ISBN: 0814907431
Page count: 330pp
Publisher: Vanguard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1974


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