February 05, 2007


"People of the Book: American Jewish Literature After Mimesis" by Phillip Ernstmeyer


Excerpt from article:

Verisimilitude and its association with mimesis has largely determined the structure of the novel since its origin in 18th Century. Narrative must incorporate certain elements in order to achieve a convincing portrayal of reality. It must have plot: an organized beginning, middle, and end, moving from cause to effect in their natural order, and finally leaving no details unexplained. It must have a setting: a time and locality sustained throughout the narrative; if altered, the alteration must be accounted for within the narrative and its plot. And it must have character(s): agents who act within and compel/are compelled by events in the story; likewise, they must possess unity, a definite identity containing neither contradiction nor insufficient motivation. Very few novels undermine these standards. The American Jewish novelists mentioned earlier — Bellow, Malamud, Roth, and Singer — obey such laws to the letter. Alternatively, Acker, Federman, Katz, and Sukenick are outlaws, renegades of the desert, desperados.

In many ways, the separate literary enterprises which Acker, Federman, Katz, and Sukenick have accomplished can be generally considered “nonmimetic novels.” Sukenick has proposed “a generative theory of fiction” (“Twelve Digressions” 434): a fiction that is written as writing being written. Federman has called novels which practice such a theory “surfiction” (“Surfiction” 7). The “fiction” of the surfictional text would be an excess of fictionality, or over fiction, as if beyond mimetic narrative, separating itself from “reality” while becoming continuous with it. “Rather than serving as a mirror or a redoubling on itself, fiction adds itself to the world, creating a meaningful reality that did not previously exist” (“Imagination” 569). Adding itself to reality, fictionalizing ex nihilo<>, “surfiction” cannot mimic; nothing outside it exists to duplicate. “As such, fiction can no longer be reality, or a representation of reality, or an imitation, or even a recreation of reality; it can only be A REALITY — an autonomous reality whose only relation to the real world is to improve that world” (“Surfiction” 8).

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