Sascha Pöhlmann, ed., Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010), 379 pp.
Jul27

Sascha Pöhlmann, ed., Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010), 379 pp.

SASCHA PÖHLMANN, ed., Against the Grain: Reading Pynchon’s Counternarratives (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010), 379 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 63.1     Pynchon scholarship and scholars tend to echo the defining characteristics of the author at the center of their discipline, namely, paranoia and erudition. In other words, Pynchon’s paranoid texts often spawn paranoid readings, and his meticulously researched writing demands incursions into the esoteric and the arcane in search of the appropriate contexts and texts. It is said that pets often resemble their owners and something not altogether dissimilar could be asserted here. Having published three novels in the space of seven years (between 2006 and 2013), the arrival of Against the Day—after an almost decade-long lacuna—perhaps signalled the beginning of what could be termed Pynchon’s late period, in fact the author’s most prolific stage thus far. The discipline of Pynchon studies appears to be, likewise, entering a new stage. The recent demise of long-standing US-based journal Pynchon Notes was preceded by the emergence of another author-centric publication, the UK-based open-access Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon, which has since revised its subtitle to A Journal of American Literature, either diluting or broadening its scope. In line with broader trends in U.S. literary studies, the intersection between literature and science, visualities, temporalities, and the political are the four prevalent themes that dominate contemporary discussion of Pynchon’s work and make themselves manifest in the edited collection Against the Grain. The essays in this volume, furthermore, engage in the ever-strengthening move towards the reassessment of well-established critical dogma. And whilst concepts such as postmodernism and metafiction still apply to Pynchon’s work, there is a growing tendency for the terms themselves to be present merely tacitly in recent critical studies, kept at arm’s length, so that Pynchon’s relationship to them can be questioned further. Against the Grain has its origins in the 2008 International Pynchon Week held at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and, as such, displays the same tell-tale symptom as most conference proceedings and post-symposium collections unavoidably exhibit, namely a general lack of thematic or even methodological coherence. However, whilst this could be seen as a drawback in the case of essays on an author with a flat, unproblematic voice, as it pertains to Thomas Pynchon this is an approach that allows the polyphonic and encyclopedic qualities of the author’s work to emerge in all their glory. After all, a scholarly collection dealing with Pynchon’s oeuvre, which contains multitudes, would be remiss if it did not read like a score of different conversations taking place simultaneously. With the majority of the pieces dealing with, or at the very least touching on, Against the Day (2006),...

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Johanna Hartmann, Christine Marks, and Hubert Zapf, eds. Zones of Focused Ambiguity in Siri Hustvedt’s Works: Interdisciplinary Essays (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 425 pp.
Jul27

Johanna Hartmann, Christine Marks, and Hubert Zapf, eds. Zones of Focused Ambiguity in Siri Hustvedt’s Works: Interdisciplinary Essays (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 425 pp.

JOHANNA HARTMANN, CHRISTEN MARKS, and HUBERT ZAPF, eds. Zones of Focused Ambiguity in Siri Hustvedt’s Works: Interdisciplinary Essays (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 425 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 63.1     The growing general and academic interest in the contemporary American writer Siri Hustvedt has, not surprisingly, resulted in the first collection of interdisciplinary essays dedicated entirely to her work. The volume contains a number of essays by international scholars from various fields of knowledge, “approach[ing] Hustvedt’s work from a range of perspectives in order to engage with an oeuvre that is hallmarked by a wide variety of styles, themes, forms of narration, and aesthetic features” (3). The current collection takes the phrase “zones of focused ambiguity” for its title from Hustvedt’s 2012 essay “Borderlands: First, Second, and Third Person Adventures in Crossing Disciplines,” in which she promotes the necessity of interdisciplinary approach. The present volume sets out to advocate interdisciplinarity as well, covering the range from literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis to medicine, memory, and perception studies. The first of five sections, “Literary Creation and Communication,” opens with an essay “Why One Story and Not Another?” by Siri Hustvedt herself, where she, exploring “[t]he mind-body question” (11), speculates on the nature of imagination, memory, and literary creativity. “Where do ideas come from?” “Why […] do some novels feel […] like lies and others feel true?” (11). Hustvedt tries to find answers to these questions, focusing on the “resonance […] that lives between reader and text” (24). According to the author, it is our imagination that helps us to “leap out of ourselves and, for a while, at least, become someone else” (24). Gabriele Rippl further elaborates on these “boundaries of the self” (36) in the essay entitled “The Rich Zones of Genre Borderlands: Siri Hustvedt’s Art of Mingling.” Based on Hustvedt’s three most recent “hybrid” (33) novels, the article reveals how the writer’s “blurring of genre boundaries” (27), on the one hand, “allows for reinvigoration and further development of genres” (32) and, on the other hand, is a way to “[transgress] conventional homogeneous and one-voiced ways of fictional world-making” (36-37). Diana Tappen-Scheuermann’s contribution “Reality Bites: Fractured Narrative and Author-Reader Interaction in Siri Hustvedt’s Work” picks up the discussion of hybridity, zooming in on the boundaries between fact and fiction. She compares Hustvedt’s The Shaking Woman with David Shields’s “‘reality-based’ literature” (40) and singles out the differences between autobiography and memoir, fiction and non-fiction, considering Hustvedt’s writing to mirror “the attempt to constitute the self through literature on different levels of autobiographical writing” (49). Caroline Rosenthal’s lucid essay explores “the shifting boundaries” (52) between reality and fiction even deeper in her...

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Clare Hayes-Brady, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, and Resistance (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 232 pp.
Jul27

Clare Hayes-Brady, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, and Resistance (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 232 pp.

CLARE HAYES-BRADY, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, and Resistance (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 232 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 63.1     Clare Hayes-Brady’s provocative title disguises a very measured review of David Foster Wallace’s oeuvre. Hayes-Brady defines “failure” as “incompletion,” and uses the term in a broadly conceptual sense to connote the deep resistance to closure apparent in Wallace’s work. Her intention is, as she explains, to “offer a framework within which his work can be read” (19). In doing so, she moves away from the dominant discourse of the critical field that too often falls back on considering Wallace as a writer primarily concerned with narcissism, solipsism and most prominently sincerity. Stephen Burn has argued that this conception of Wallace “may not be the only way to theorize Infinite Jest.”[1] Hayes-Brady takes up the challenge to do this, offering a completely new approach, which sets the book apart from the existing scholarship. By using the idea of failure as a prism, Hayes-Brady addresses the thematic and structural ambiguities that have long been perplexing for scholars and uses them to rethink our perception of Wallace. The book is divided into eight sections. In the introductory chapter, Hayes-Brady distinguishes between three modes of failure in Wallace—abject, structural and generative failure. The third category is her main focus and the second chapter develops this further, making reference to general examples of failure across Wallace’s work and also emphasizing the formative influence of philosophy on him. Crucially, Hayes-Brady attempts to situate Wallace in a broader context and the third chapter examines the literary and cultural influences that shaped Wallace’s artistic development. For Hayes-Brady, Wallace is intrinsically a product of his time, “a writer deeply embedded in literary and cultural history” (9). Extending this, chapter four returns to philosophy and offers a more specific account of Wallace’s engagement with the discipline. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Richard Rorty and Paul Ricoeur provide specific points of discussion throughout the text, as all were significant to Wallace’s intellectual development. This section also refocuses attention on the sometimes overlooked first novel Broom of the System. Chapter five evaluates communication in Wallace’s work, with Hayes-Brady mainly illustrating its failures and shortcomings. The sixth chapter reapproaches the prominent topics of narcissism and solipsism with a particular focus on language, while chapter seven goes further by examining the “unique vocal structures” (17) Wallace uses in both fiction and non-fiction. This addresses some of the stylistic conventions of his writing, such as his continual and oftentimes disingenuous repudiation of any sort of expertise. In the eighth chapter, Hayes-Brady questions Wallace’s depictions of race, gender and the body, which...

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Heinz Ickstadt, Aesthetic Innovation and the Democratic Principle: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Poetry and Fiction. Eds. Susanne Rohr, Peter Schneck, Sabine Sielke. Heidelberg: Winter, 2016. 402 pp.
Jul27

Heinz Ickstadt, Aesthetic Innovation and the Democratic Principle: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Poetry and Fiction. Eds. Susanne Rohr, Peter Schneck, Sabine Sielke. Heidelberg: Winter, 2016. 402 pp.

HEINZ ICKSTADT, Aesthetic Innovation and the Democratic Principle: Essays on Twentieth-Century American Poetry and Fiction. Eds. Susanne Rohr, Peter Schneck, Sabine Sielke. Heidelberg: Winter, 2016. 402 pp. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 63.1     It may seem peculiar to spend the first two paragraphs of a relatively short book review on a preface to a collection of essays that was added quite some time after the essays themselves had been published. But in the case of Heinz Ickstadt’s Aesthetic Innovation and the Democratic Principle, a collection of his essays on literary aesthetics and aesthetic experience in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it is necessary to do so because the preface sets up these essays as an intervention in current Americanist debates. In this preface, Ickstadt, a masterful, philosophically thoughtful reader of American literature, states that he “did not follow the discipline’s unmistakable tendency to shift its attention from literature to culture or from the study of literary texts to the study of theory” (9). While Ickstadt explicitly advocates interdisciplinary dialogue, he is weary of current attempts to read literary texts exclusively for their relevance for other fields, without considering how these texts are first of all literary texts and not simple representations of research in other academic fields. According to Ickstadt, then, current forms of interdisciplinarity occur too readily with readers disregarding the literariness of the text. For him, this shift away from literature is symptomatic of a general crisis of the Humanities: Since the status of literary studies (and the study of literature within American Studies in particular) is apparently endangered by the general shift in our contemporary academic landscape away from the Humanities, it is of course greatly tempting to secure its relevance by subsuming the specific questions literature generates into those of adjacent or seemingly more relevant fields (be they philosophy, sociology or the history of science). (10) Accordingly, the text too often becomes “an illustration of the theory applied.” Both in his preface and the essays themselves, Ickstadt does not reject such “interdisciplinary dialogue” (10). But he makes sure that he participates in this dialogue from a literary perspective, insisting that the question of the aesthetic remain at the heart of literary studies. In this light, Ickstadt’s collection of essays must be conceived as the scholarly legacy of a towering figure of American Studies as well as a challenge to the field as it stands today. Ickstadt’s series of essays ultimately amounts to a treatise on the aesthetic. His aesthetic theory is rooted in a commitment to modernism—from John Dewey’s philosophy to the poetry and fiction of American modernism. Throughout his essays, Ickstadt dwells on the aesthetic...

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Siri Hustvedt, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 552 pp.
Jul27

Siri Hustvedt, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 552 pp.

SIRI HUSTVEDT, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 552 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 63.1     Siri Hustvedt’s sixth collection of essays, A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, even deeper than her previous work, explores the gaps between various modes of thinking within different disciplines. Maintaining that “all human knowledge is partial” (xii), Hustvedt integrates findings from phenomenology, biology, neuroscience, cognitive sciences, psychoanalysis, linguistics, etc., in order to investigate profound philosophical questions, such as: Who are we? What is the self? Where do ideas come from? What is the mind and how is it related to the brain, the consciousness, and the body? What role do emotion, memory, and the unconscious play in perception? Hustvedt’s goal is to “interrogate certainty and trumpet doubt and ambiguity” (149), and eventually inspire her reader to start asking questions about the received ideas and cultural truisms. Being a novelist and a feminist, an art admirer and a lecturer in psychiatry, a literary scholar and a public intellectual, Hustvedt attempts to “make sense” of plural perspectives (xiv) on many unsolved problems and complex phenomena, intercepting them with her own experiences, observations, and humor. The first of three sections, “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women,” addresses the questions of art and perception. The title essay discusses the work of the three artists—Picasso, Beckmann, and de Kooning—in the larger framework of existing cultural ideas and codes associated with the man/woman binary. Thus, Hustvedt argues that centuries-long equating women with emotions and the body, referring to them by their first name in the books on art and labelling their pieces “woman’s art” (32), while at the same time linking men to intellect and genius, promote unconscious ideas and biases against women that have become part of human perception. Hustvedt’s own in-depth analyses of some paintings, however, disclose that great art escapes gender and sex categories—an idea that repeats itself in other essays of the first section, especially in her discussion of Louise Bourgeois’s work in “My Louise Bourgeois.” Hustvedt expands her theory of perceptual biases in the following articles of the first part, referring to artists Jeff Koon and Anselm Kiefer, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, filmmakers Pedro Almodóvar and Wim Wenders. Based on the latter’s piece about the choreographer Pina Bausch, the author investigates “the perceptual chasm” (46) between on-screen and live performances, giving special attention to the concept of the body and its immediacy. In her essay on Susan Sontag, Hustvedt scrutinizes Sontag’s lecture on classical pornography, her “posthumanist” position, and the meaning of the voyeuristic gaze, and...

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