Dec 112013


“And the field was him,” a sentence in Plus, a novel by Joseph McElroy, warrants an inquiry into field and the novel. The novelty of McElroy’s fiction grows from the attempt to use the structure of a novel as itself a field, presenting actions which occur within fields. He displays field as aesthetic structure, and field as content of aesthetic structure. So within the novel, events which occur within a field can also be seen as themselves constituting a field. In both field as structure and as content, the hero is intelligible as a region of a field, not as a sphere or core of individuality which passes through a field in fulfillment of a destiny.

In an ordinary story, choices among possibilities reduce the number of possibilities to probabilities, and choices among probabilities reduce the probabilities to necessity. In a field-novel, instead of an order of succession from beginning possibilities, middle probabilities, and concluding necessities, possibility can be preserved as such, because it is a quality of the field. A field provides a different and all-over distribution of energy and attention from a structure with a hero or heroine at the center.

When field is a structure as well as thematic content, field-fiction can draw the reader into its field through diction and sentence structure which evoke experiences in reading which are self-evidently different from reading a linear plot. Any detail in a conventional novel is significant as it bears or does not bear upon the life or destiny of the hero. But any detail in a field-novel can have, as part of its meaning, its position in a spatio-temporal field. Without the hierarchy of importance to the hero, details cannot easily be arranged in hierarchies, and any hierarchies which survive fluctuate wildly. Even triviality can become important when the triviality of any detail becomes part of the theme.

Read the rest: Joseph McElroy: Fathoming the Field

—Jason DeYoung

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