Jan 312010

Now think about how Shklovsky and Lish fit together. Lish is a child of the stillborn American avant garde (postmodern) of the 60s and 70s. I mean people like Gass, Coover, Barthelme and Hawkes. Hawkes was famous for having said that plot, character, setting and theme are the enemies of the novel. Shklovsky’s Russian Formalism evolves out of Futurism and Don Quixote and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. (Cervantes and Sterne invented most of the techniques of literary experiment; we just keep rediscovering them–note the blank pages in Lish’s novel Arcade and then go and look at the famous blank chapter in Tristram Shandy.) He says art is about technique (not about its subject matter). But the techniques he discusses are delay, stepped construction, deceleration, repetition, parallelism, differential perceptions and baring the device. His novels, even his essays for that matter, are strange, discursive, tangential, experimental narratives that include bits of memoir and literary criticism. Russian Formalism led through structuralist linguistics (Jacobson) and post-structuralism (Saussure and Barthes) to European literary theory–Barthes, Derrida and after.  Lately Lish has been quoting European theorists like Kristeva, Deleuze and Lyotard in his epigraphs. Though they talk and write quite differently, both Lish and Shklovsky believe that subject matter is secondary to technique. They both use the formal disruption of mainstream expectation to jar the reader into paying attention to the reading of the text.


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