BEYOND THE WASTELAND: A Study of the American Novel in the Nineteen-Sixties by Raymond M. Olderman

BEYOND THE WASTELAND: A Study of the American Novel in the Nineteen-Sixties

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No one who has read much fiction over the past decade is likely to quarrel with Olderman's characterization of a distinct '60's novel type: the ""lost sense of the ordinary,"" the helpless protagonist, the persistent intimations of a vast and sinister conspiracy, and a darkly comic mode of response (characters' or authors' or both) to this threatening, incomprehensible state of affairs. Olderman need only appeal to his readers' experience to indicate a parallel with the increasing instability and grotesqueness of American life over the same period; but having done so, he then tends to minimize the actual environment (with the questionable proposition that there hasn't been much real change, whatever that might be, since the end of World War II), and to finesse important contextual issues -- media, bureaucracy, technological and political hypertrophy -- with such unilluminating tags as ""the blurring of fact and fiction."" What he chooses to consider is the literary uses of unspecified chaos and particularly novelists' recourse to myth (the tale of the Fisher King, derived through Eliot) and the American romance tradition. Discussions of Kesey, Barth, Pynchon, Hawkes, Vonnegut, etc., elaborate a state of consciousness and reveal how preexisting forms have been adapted to conditions of ontological stand-off; but Olderman's own participation in the decade's larger bafflement and dread precludes the necessary perspective for placing and assessing the phenomena he describes.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1972
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press