United States Narrative

United States Narrative

North America

As in poetry, the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s also gradually faded in fiction, both at the more purely ideological level and at that of formal experimentation. The iconoclasm of the great postmodern novel by J. Barth, K. Vonnegut, Th. Pynchon and R. Coover gives way to a less conflictual writing than the conventions of everyday communication, for the simple reason that many of the assumptions of the postmodern avant-gardes – the collapse of the “ great narratives ” (Christianity, Marxism), the loss of the sense of origin, the impossibility of an objective relationship with reality and the consequent disintegration of the principle of truth – have become the new common sense, mass media.

The author who more than any other embodied the spirit of the American postmodern, J. Barth (b.1930), declares in his famous article in The literature of replenishment (1979; trans. It., In P. Carravetta, P. Spedicato, Postmodern and literature, 1984) the end of the period of total experimentation (and of equally total distrust in the possibility of being able to produce any meaning through it) than the previous The literature of exhaustion (1967; trans. It., ibid.) had theorized by announcing the exhaustion of literature as it had been conceived up to then; the new literature will instead be the result of a conscious recovery of both modernism and pre-modernism (the great bourgeois novel of the nineteenth century), and will synthesize their achievements rather than attempting to ” overcome ” them in a nihilistic self-destructive gesture. Not that the most recent Barth is any less experimental, indeed: Sabbatical (1982) is a novel full of doubling of the narrating voice, intricate overlapping of intertwining, crazy intertextual connections, phantasmagoric puns; however, instead of surrendering to the uncontrollable multiplication of meaning and definitively undermining the power of the author (that of guarantor of ”it re-proposes the salvific principle of creativity, in both an artistic and biological sense.

If Barth’s ancestry is mainly those of high literature – modernist, realist, even romantic – the writing of K. Vonnegut Jr. (b.1922) continues to play rather with the conventions of consumer literature, primarily science fiction, but shifting the ‘objective of the estrangement introduced by means of those narrative techniques from the past of history or from the present of actuality to the near future of Hocus Pocus (1990; trans. it., 1991) or very remote of Galapagos (1985; trans. it., 1993)), as if the mutations of his contemporary civilization had already reached that incomprehensible absurdity that he had denounced in classics such as Slaughterhouse 5 (1972) and Breakfast of champions (1974), forcing him to move forward in time to once again be able to surprise the reader and indign him.

Like Vonnegut, Pynchon (b.1937) also made use of the narrative structures of the science fiction novel to construct his multifaceted major novels, however using more of their epistemological openings on the questions posed by science and technology than, like Vonnegut, the alienating potential. What displaces the reader of Pynchon is not the deformation of reality caused by the superimposition of the science fiction framework, but that internal crumbling of cognitive certainties which is the direct result of the information overload to which the citizen of postmodernity is subjected, and which therefore it produces, rather than being produced, the drift towards an antirealistic type of narrative. On the other hand, the last Pynchon seems less interested in exploring the paradoxes of knowledge, Vineland (1990; trans. It., Milan 1990), a ” cybernetic ” novel that tells the conflict between the survivors (like him) of the radical movement of the Sixties and the technologized neoconservative power of the Eighties, throwing the reader into that same nightmare atmosphere, the more real the more ” virtual ”, which is described by the so-called cyberpunk novelists (W. Gibson, n. 1948; B. Sterling, n. 1954).

For the Coover (n.1932) of Gerald’s party (1986; it., 1988) the detective novel is instead the narrative model that allows the reader to present the chaotic scene of contemporaneity as it is created (even before ‘ ‘transmitted’) by the media, in the continuous influx of people more or less directly interested in investigating (policemen, journalists, photographers, cameramen), who meet and clash as the party continues, and in doing so they confuse themselves and the mystery of the murder beyond belief, rather than solving it; a solution eventually arrives, but after a long series of other more or less unmotivated deaths it does not seem to matter much to decide what was the original cause of the first crime. The party of Gerald then dramatizes the scene of the crime that free play of interpretations that the postmodern deconstruction and allows theorize, and with it the loss of the origin of the sense that it is based: a source that still is to an end, of a death. With Pinocchio in Venice (1991) the fragmentation of the identity principle will then be projected by Coover on the symbol of dehumanization par excellence, the puppet, and on the city that can more perfectly reflect its ” gothic ” artifice.

In the work of R. Federman (b.1928) the linguistic experiments of the first postmoderns reach dizzying heights and are contaminated in the most disparate ways with other forms of communication, as theorized by Federman himself in Surfiction(new ed., 1981). In turn, G. Sorrentino (b.1929) breaks down with similar energy the claims of realistic representation in protean and explosively intertextual texts, but always pervaded by a playful irony, such as Mulligan stew (1979) or Misterioso(1989).

Authors such as J. Updike (b.1932) and J. Cheever (1912-1982) have instead assimilated from postmodern aesthetics not so much the formal solutions as the obsessive fear of the disintegration of the individual psyche (especially that of the apparently wealthy members of the class media), studied with realistic passion by Updike in the Rabbit cycle (but Updike is also capable of bizarre visionary excursions into the fantastic) and by Cheever in short stories and in Falconer (1977; trans. it., The prisoner of Falconer, 1978). Similar issues are addressed, but in more explicitly political ways and with a naturalist-expressionist language, by T. Wolfe (b.1931) of The bonfire of vanities (1988; trad. It., 1988), who thanks to his experience as a chronicler translates the frustrations studied in detail by Cheever and Updike into a collective fresco in bright colors. D. DeLillo (b. 1936) takes Wolfe’s ” journalistic ” solutions to extremes in a science fiction sense, extending their historical depth and radicalizing their polyphony in novels such as White noise (1984; trans. It., 1987) and Libra (1988; trad. it., 1989).

In a more lateral position than the mainstream of the postmodern novel we find J. Hawkes (b.1925; Virginie, 1983; Whistlejacket, 1988), author of novels far less formally controlled than those of his colleagues and governed rather by a shapeless imagination and visionary, attracted by the most exasperated violence, which seems to be indebted above all to French surrealism, or possibly to that tradition of ” American Gothic ” that goes from B. Brown to Faulkner. Carpenter’s gothic (1985; it., American gothic) makes explicit reference to this same tradition, 1990) by W. Gaddis (b.1922), who, however, is not pleased with the exhibitionism of gratuitous violence and instead leads the reader into a labyrinthine alternation of revelations and falsifications, epiphanies and concealments, and condemns the characters to continuous hesitation between the attempt to rationally control events and the temptation to yield to the illogical and incomprehensible, like the characters in many of Poe’s stories. The structure of the investigative story and the atmosphere of the Gothic are merged in the New York trilogy (1985-86; trans. It., 1987) by P. Auster (b. 1946), overflowing with quotations from the great nineteenth-century American literature.

Short fiction is the form that best suits D. Barthelme (1933-1989), for whom, consistent with his beliefs about the irremediably fragmented nature of the contemporary world, the story is the only means of expression that manages to capture, denouncing it parodistically, the menacing pulverization of the centers of power. Also for WH Gass (b. 1924) decidedly pessimistic philosophical considerations on the possibility of establishing non-deceptive relations between language and reality are reflected in the preference for the short form. W. Abish (b. 1931) devotes himself above all to creating an intra / intertextual network with great storytelling power through complex operations of (un) assembly. R. Sukenick (b.1932) finally exercises his post-realistic narrative voice in stories that

Perhaps precisely because of this insistence of postmodernism on the metaphor of disintegration, a dense group of authors who can be defined in a more or less strict sense postmodern come from the Jewish community, whose millennial history is entirely inscribed under the sign of dispersion. After all, S. Bellow had already anticipated in the 1950s some aspects of the narrative of the following decades, and continued in the last few novels (The Dean’s december, 1982; trans. It., Il dicembre del Professor Corde, 1986; More die of heartbreak, 1987; trad. it., 1987) the ironic, but no less decisive examination of the condition of contemporary man, an exile among millions of other exiles who would like to return to the ordered world of premodernity.

More desperate looks the conclusion of the career of B. Malamud (1914-1986), judging by God’s Grace (1982; trans. It., My God, thanks, 1984), which outlines the doomsday desolate scenery of the end of humanity, although filtered by an often sardonic tone. The sarcastic H. Gold and above all Ph. Roth (b. 1933), who has fun with history and with his personal story by inventing a series of alter egos, seem not as ” worried ”.who are involved in the most embarrassing events: like that Nathan Zuckerman protagonist of a series of novels published in the Eighties. The connection between the autobiography (real or fictional) of the American Jewish writer and the tumultuous evolution of the history of this century returns in the production of EL Doctorow, which after Ragtime (1975; trans. It., 1976), a best seller, has published other highly successful novels where an attempt is made to mediate between the difficulty of reading posed by postmodern aesthetics and the easier storytelling required by the public. Similar choices, but veered towards a very hard humor black, are those operated by S. Elkin and J. Heller (b.1923), who, more than writing novels on the experience of the Jews of America, prefers cruelly parodying the writing of novels of this kind in Good as gold (1979) and God knows (1984; trans. It., 1985). In 1994, H. Roth (b.1907) reappeared on the literary scene after sixty years of hiding, and with A star shines over Mt. Morris Park (1994; trad. It., 1994), the first of the series of volumes of which the autobiographical Mercy of a rude stream is composed, returns to the undertaking of rewriting the childhood and adolescent experience begun with the famous Call it sleep (1934; trad. it., 1989).

Although less experimental on a purely linguistic level than that of their male colleagues, the narrative of the Jewish-American writers offers a decisive contribution to the revolution of the cultural categories that determine the configuration of interpersonal relations in contemporary society, and presents that of T as a charismatic figure. Olsen (b. 1913), author of a novel that has become legendary, Yonnondio, started in the 1930s and published only in 1974; in Olsen to the difficulties posed by being a woman and a Jew (and also relatively illiterate) are added those of political persecution, due to her commitment to the communist movement. G. Paley (b. 1922) describes his own stories (collected in 1994 in The collected stories) as “stories of men and women in love”, but the poetry with which the author’s imagination follows the threads of sentimental intertwining never excludes a radical criticism of man-woman relationships as dictated by male power. C. Ozick (b. 1928) finally devotes himself with passion to the recovery of the Jewish historical and cultural heritage, in the continuous effort to make sense of the frightening experience of the Holocaust.

In the African-American fiction of the last two decades, the contribution of female writers has been much more significant than that of men, including only I. Reed (b.1938) with the ” multicultural ” Reckless eyeballing (1986) high the tradition of the R. Ellison and R. Wright, to whom he had already contributed with the acrobatic Mumbo Jumbo (1972; trans. it., 1981). The affirmation of a vast and important Afro-American women’s literature was sealed by the awarding of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature to T. Morrison (b. 1931), author of novels with a great epic-mythic inspiration that culminate in that Beloved (1987; trad. it., Beloved, 1988) which transposes in the ink of writing the equally dark voice of the oral culture of American blacks: on the framework of a ghost story, with a daughter killed ” for love ” who returns to her mother to reclaim her own share of happiness, and against the backdrop of the US just emerging from the civil war, the author recreates the suffering and nightmare that generated the individual, family and collective identities of African Americans after the end of slavery, in the wake of a waving language that it evokes the painful trend of the blues and the spiritual, and is a prelude to the more systematic use of the rhythms of black jazz music (1992).

The interest in oral histories and legends and in the peculiar musicality of black English returns in G. Jones (b.1949), N. Shange (b.1948) and G. Naylor (b.1950), but it is A Walker to draw aesthetic results comparable to those of Morrison. Influenced above all by the literature of the ” Harlem Renaissance ” of the 1920s, and in particular by that Z. Neale Hurston that she was able to bring back to critical attention with an important biography, Walker draws the plots around the double knot that oppresses black women, that is, belonging to a double minority, of gender and ethnicity. Meridian (1976; trans. It., 1987), the tales of You can’t keep a good woman down (1981; trans. It., 1988), and most of all The color purple(1983; trans. It., 1984), seek in the transcendence of creative activity (literally, in art, and literally, in motherhood) a way to overcome the obstacles to the intellectual and spiritual growth of black women: letters that tell the story of The Color Purpleweave the network of solidarity to which mothers and daughters and friends cling to resist the violence of racism and sexism, but also allow each of the writers to become aware of her own individual voice. Moreover, the centrality of the search for the voice as a principle of identity is illustrated by the five autobiographies that make up the main corpus of M. Angelou’s work, as well as by Gemini (1971), the equally indicative autobiography of the poet N. Giovanni. Finally, T. Cade Bambara’s research appears to be more collective and multicultural, and O. Butler’s is more willing to compromise with consumer literary genres (science fiction).

The intersection of gender and race identities and the complex cultural expressions (popular and non, oral and written, founded in legend and history) that are produced are at the center of the work of authors who also belong to other minorities: it is the case of M. Hong Kingston (b. 1940) and his The woman warrior (1976; trans. It., 1982), which mythically reconstructs a membership as complex as that of Sino-American women can be. For L. Marmon Silko (b. 1948) and L. Erdrich (b. 1954) the mythical dimension assumes a decisive structural and linguistic importance, dictated by the recourse to the cultural heritage of the American Indians. The relationship of Silko and Erdrich with the sources of the original Indian culture, however, is not based on the hope of being able to draw directly from them in their primitive purity, but is always mediated by an already solid literary tradition, which was born in the proper sense with House made of dawn (1968; trans. it., 1993), the dreamy novel by N. Scott Momaday (b.1934), author more recently of the no less fascinating The ancient child (1989).

Among the contemporary narrators who are not ethnically ” marked ”, E. Welty (b. 1909) stands out above all, a prominent exponent of that Southern Gothic who has already known the crude explorations of C. McCullers and F. O’Connor; Welty’s Collected stories were published in 1980 Even JC Oates (b. 1938), despite being a prolific author who knows no boundaries of genre, expresses herself best when she resorts to the tradition of American Gothic to subject the interrelation between a mysterious past and a distressing present to merciless irony; however, lately Oates has successfully dedicated herself to the composition of neorealistically minimalist short stories. In the work of J. Didion (b.1934) the influence of the journalistic experience is clearly felt, Democracy (1984), political novel set in California. In recent decades, however, women have not only conquered the citadels of the noblest literary genres, but also those of non-eminently feminine consumer literature, radically changing their forms and contents. Eccentric crime writers such as P. Highsmith (1921-1995) have thus established themselves, who do not fear comparisons with the exponents of the neo- hard boiled school, E. Leonard (b. 1925) and Th. Harris (b. 1940); ” feminist ” science fiction authors like UK LeGuin (b.1929) or explicitly lesbian like J. Russ (b.1937), who create alternative fantasies no less extraordinary than those of Ph.K. Dick or I. Asimov; horror writerslike Sh. Jackson (1919-1965) and A. Rice (b. 1941), who projected into the universe of which S. King is recognized master the terrors of the ” other ” condition par excellence, the female one.

Perhaps precisely in reaction to the almost exasperated ” spectacularity ” of postmodern fiction, around the mid-1980s a current of young storytellers was formed who, instead of throwing themselves into the euphoric vertigo of experimentation, retreated into an extremely restricted thematic and linguistic sphere., with desolate and chilling emotional outlines: the so-called “minimalist” school takes up the deliberately aseptic elementary nature of Hemingway’s prose and dries it even more, eliminating any mythicizing dimension, reducing the extension of life represented in the text to the narrowest everyday insignificant. Before the term “minimalist” made its way into critical jargon,amazing settings of so much contemporary fiction and delve into the less obvious corners of US society, describing them with a style that, just as it tries to be more flatly realistic, becomes a vehicle for defamiliarization and the uncanny, and leaving the motivations and origins in the unspoken of actions and attitudes opens up an empty and mysterious space in front of the reader.

Ford (b. 1944) is inspired by the example of Carver, also dedicated to describing the emptiness of contemporary life by means of a stylized vernacular language. The younger J. McInerney, D. Leavitt and BE Ellis transfer the sense of desperate inadequacy from the provincial and petty bourgeois or proletarian world of Carver and Ford to the glittering universe of Reaganian cities, populated by amoral and unhappy yuppies ; Ellis (b.1964), however, exacerbates the almost animalistic competitiveness of stock brokers in an anodyne compulsion to exercise self-worship, until it explodes into the hysterical violence of American psycho. (1991). The ferocity with which Ellis exposes the eminently violent character of (post? -) capitalism is unparalleled even in the explicitly radical novels of G. Vidal or in the subversive visionary of WS Burroughs, much less in the escapes into pre-industrial worlds of P. Theorux.

The past fifteen years have seen the disappearance of many important voices in US fiction. Among these we must remember if only those of H. Miller (1891-1980), the mythical author of some of the most “scandalous” novels of the 20th century; by KA Porter (1890-1980), forerunner of writers dedicated above all to short stories with an almost naturalistic trend such as G. Paley; by D. Barnes (1892-1982), the unius books author of Nightwood (1936); by R. Brautigan (1935-1984), who has time to confirm his visionary, poetic and ironic talent at the same time, in The Tokyo-Montana Express (1980) and So the wind won’t blow it all away (1982); by J. Gardner (1933-1982), creator of brilliant linguistic fantasies in Mickelsson’s ghosts(1982) but also advocate of an ethically committed literature in the essays collected in On moral fiction (1978); by E. Caldwell (1903-1987), to whom we owe some of the most representative novels of the Thirties; by J. Baldwin (1924-1987), one of the leading exponents of African-American intellectuality; by RP Warren (1905-1989), novelist, poet and essayist who combined a severe theorization and application of the principles of New Criticism with fidelity to the cause of Southern culture ; by M. McCarthy (1912-1989), champion of liberal realismand ironic / grotesque, together with J. Purdy and W. Percy; by J. Kosinski (1933-1991), anatomizer of the craziest and most violent cruelties of the postmodern era; by IB Singer (1904-1991), one of the last custodians of the Yiddish heritage of the Jews of America; by Ch. Bukowski (1920-1993), the singer of the abandonment to alcohol and sex; by R. Ellison (1914-1994), who deserves credit for having written one of the most important novels of the century, Invisible man (1952).

In the mid-nineties, however, with the extinction of the revolutionary charge of postmodernism and the exhaustion of the minimalist model caused by the excessive reduction of stylistic registers, the American fiction does not seem to want to bend to too precise categorizations: man or woman, white or Indian or black or belonging to ethnic groups of more recent ” Americanization ” (at least a mention should be made of the flourishing narrative of Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants), whoever writes novels and short stories in the US today is forced (or has opportunity) to move between the various genres, the different narrative techniques, the multiform linguistic and thematic models, without a sure guide,looking for expressive ways that can make his voice and his stories heard beyond the communicative noise produced by the explosion of mass media.

United States Narrative