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Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society) Hardcover – October 19, 2001
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
" Sublime Desire constitutes a major contribution to the growing body of work on contemporary historical fiction... a must for those who wonder about the pervasivenessof history in comtemporary literature."(Luc Herman Review of Contemporary Fiction)
"Elias sets out to deepen our understanding of the ethical and political power of the historical romance, then and now... By the end of the book, however, she gives us much more than a thorough literary history. She gives us an increasingly intense investigation of how we might engage an ethics that resists the modern and the nostalgic."(Nancy Jesser Southern Humanities Review)
"Fresh perspectives on the relationship between literature and traumatic historical experiences, historical truth and literary imagination, memory and narrative."(Laura Savu Symploke)
"These arguments are well stated and clear, and Elias's book is worth consulting."(Jeremy Tambling Yearbook of English Studies)
"Elias not only offers a compelling analysis of postwar fiction but also reconciles much existing postmodern theory... Lucidly written, richly textured, and commandingly researched throughout."(Timothy Melley Pynchon Notes)
"As someone who has written on the topics of history, postmodernism, and fiction, it is with great pleasure that I can honestly say that this book has made me seriously rethink my most cherished conceptions about this broad field of theoretical endeavor."(Linda Hutcheon, University of Toronto, President of the Modern Language Association of America (2000))
"Elias manages to catch the postmodern intellectual zeitgest."(Christoph Henke Anglia)
From the Publisher
"As someone who has written on the topics of history, postmodernism, and fiction, it is with great pleasure that I can honestly say that this book has made me seriously rethink my most cherished conceptions about this broad field of theoretical endeavor."Linda Hutcheon, University of Toronto, President of the Modern Language Association of America (2000)
Top customer reviews
dismissals of postmodernists' alleged disinterest in and "flight" from history. Elias shows mastery of the works of the principal representatives of postmodernist writing, the philosophical treatment of poststructuralism, and the serious literary criticism of modernism. She amply demonstrates that, far from being a "flight" from history, most postmodernist novels are in fact historical novels, though of a kind quite different from their nineteenth-century prototypes. Dogmatists, of course, will not be moved, but anyone with an open mind can gain a new and original perspective on the relation between history and literature, fact and fiction, perception and writing, and the conflict between literary realism, on the one hand, and its modernist counterpart, on the other.
Conflating Barth's existentialist sensibility--which, after all, IS HIS sensibility, if one she finds solipsistic, "epistemologically crippling" and "pathological"--with a "nihilistic" one, she faults (erroneously, in my opinion) "Sot-weed", which is to say finds it "disturbing," not only for being possessed of "no ethical or political center," but for being a "deeply reactionary" (racist, sexist, colonialist, etc.) cop-out, as if the worth of a work can somehow be measured by the presence or absence of such nakedly political, frankly moralistic, didactic properties and elements. At one point, she even goes so far as to ungenerously, if no less preposterously suggest that Barth's 800-page tour-de-force is little but "a prolonged academic joke."
The equally elephantine Pynchon, meanwhile, she commends for its foregrounding and valorizing the communal over the individual, the historical over the existential, and the political over the aesthetic. In other words, because she believes the social, historical and political more critical when evaluating the success of a literary work than the psychological, existential and aesthetic, she predictably enough judges "Mason & Dixon"--within which she identifies "a moral imperative to ethical action"--the more serious and profound ergo admirable effort.
Without engaging in some silly, ultimately self-defeating discussion about which book is "better"--I personally am content to argue that both are masterpieces each in their own inimitable, indisputably brilliant way--and while stipulating that Professor Elias certainly is entitled to her opinion just as Jack Barth's work certainly requires no defense from me, I might point out that when she observes as she does on page 232 that "Barth's vision is very much aligned with that of the existentialist modernists, while Pynchon's is closer to that of the postmodern historians," the good professor is spot-on. Unfortunately, she also makes it painfully clear that for reasons of ethics and politics, at least as she construes them, she finds the latter "vision" distinctly superior to the former. In fact, it isn't. That is, it needn't be.
What she unpardonably fails to address is the AESTHETIC value of each work, above and beyond their so-called ethical and political value. Indeed, one might convincingly argue that the Barth is the aesthetically superior effort precisely because it lacks (if it does) an "ethical and political center," choosing instead, as is any author's prerogative, to elevate matters of voice, form, architectonics, syntax, language use, etc. over that of didactic political and moral messaging. (In fact, "Sot-weed" does not lack such a center. It simply does not contain the sort the professor finds to her liking. She doubtless would have little patience with the not unheard-of notion that the Aesthetic is BY DEFINITION Ethical, or the Keatsian adage concerning the relationship between Beauty and Truth.)
All said, however, despite its inherent biases as exemplified by and exposed most starkly in her final Barth vs. Pynchon chapter, "Sublime Desire" represents a valuable contribution to the historiographic meta-fiction discussion launched by Linda Hutcheon now some 30 years ago.
Some familiarity with the fist half of Foucault's 'Archaeology of Knowledge' and Jameson's 'Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism' will be helpful.
One point: the publisher's list price of $47.00 is absurd.