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06/13/2005

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Matt

Would you happen to know at what bookstore I'd be able to pick up a copy of Bookforum? Thanks.

Gerald Howard

I am the author of the Pynchon piece you discuss. If one has to be disagreed with, it is good to have it done so intelligently and thoughtfully. I do have a couple of comments.

For one thing, while I agree that "first growth postmodernism" was hardly full of direct social crtique and intent, it was far from being all free aesthetic play. Let me begin by quoting a letter from my pal Peter Kaldheim that got cut from the essay for space reasons: "I remember having the sense that I was in touch with a sort of Underground Resistance, a sub rosa opposition movement springing up in the imagination of writers who were as tired of the status quo in America as I was . . . The fiction being written by these innovative writers was one product of America that I could embrace without feeling shabby or misled or condescended to, and as the war in Vietnam finally ended and the postwar economy went into a tailspin, it was a comfort to have at least SOMETHING to make you proud to be an American." Indeed. The new techniques and attitudes that informed this fiction was intended, and taken by the likes of us, to be a critique of consensus reality and the grotesqueness and corruption of American life. Okay, nobody will ever take Donald Barthelme for a social critic, but his stance toward life was immensely attractive to the spiritually disaffiliated.

Beyond that, I think you forget how explicitly critical and radical some of that literature was. To cite two conspicuous examples, William Gaddis's JR and Robert Coover's THE PUBLIC BURNING, both searing send-ups of the American system. Don DeLillo's END ZONE took an ironic stance toward the American way of total war,while Ishmael Reed's burlesques were fully engaged with the racial politics of the time. GRAVITY'S RAINBOW was taken by us, and really was the acme of this critical tendency in American postmodernism, and its sense of humor, which derives from the black humorists of the early sixties, was immensely liberating.

Beyond this, I'll just say that when I called GR a product of the cold war, I was only trying to explain why my younger colleagues seemed somehwat unaware of or indifferent to it. Me, I think it is built to last, and if it has dated, well, so has MOBY DICK.

Dan Green

Gerald: Thanks for responding to my post. Although I do disagree with some of what you say in your essay, I nevertheless still found it an equally intelligent and thoughful piece. JR and The Public Burning are definitely novels engaged in social/political criticism, but I do think The Public Burning is unusual in the context of the rest of Coover's work in its explicit political critique (which also is consistent with other concerns Coover's fiction habitually treats--the influence of myth and spectacle, etc.) I also think it would be a mistake to reduce JR to merely a "social" novel. There's more going on there than political satire.

Jonathan

I just picked up that copy of Bookforum.

I don't know whether Gerald was referring, whether self-consciously or sub-consciously, to

"The pure products
of America
go crazy..."

Pure in the sense of only being possible in these particular circumstances.

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