By Warner Berthoff
Probes postwar American writers' abandonment of distinguishing positive factors of literary workmanship in writings seen as testaments of private survival and displays at the customers of literature in a time of cultural challenge and waft
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Additional resources for A Literature Without Qualities: American Writing Since 1945
3 As it is, Howa rd's by no means u11discri1ninating book surveyed the work of no fewer than forty-one individually accomplished poets; and nearly every knowledgeable reviewer had his checklist of regrettable omissions. Further, it can well be argued that any account of this period which defined its essential character · through a smaller, more exacting selection of names and titles would be historically false. It would be false most especially to our actual experience of the years in question as a historical period, with its own distinguishi11g condi tions for new work and for the reception of new work; false as well to the sense that these conditions have settled over us by fits and starts and a t a hundred different fa cings, rather than through the exemplary power of a few acknowledged master texts.
Il aa1opcK111M npaaoM A Generation in Retreat 43 life ''to statistical anonymity, or to the status of mere case history. ) The diagnosis will hardly be unfamiliar. Descriptions of the same prevailing con ditions of life, more or less, have latterly become a kind of bookseller's co1nmodity. * The recognizable commo11 truth in Jameson's ac count may considerably explain, in quite practical terms, our rising critical tolerance for the time-filling volubility that has returned to fashion. The reassur ance of any sort of speaking voice, any unpro grammed personal utterance, becomes an end in it self, worth seeking out and giving one's ear to wherever found.
If the Detroit, Houston, Bt1ffalo of the 1 950s, 1960s, and 1970s were to dream collectively, they wot1ld drearn, I think, something very close to a Joyce Carol Oates novel. vorld-two basic kinds of testimony n1ay be said to do1ninate America11 writing since the 1940s. The literary modes tl1ey result in are, at a glance, differ ent in the extreme. On one side we find 1011g, mi nt1tely circumstantial prose fictions te11ding to be fantastic in outlook and specificatio11, yet naturalistic in their cumulative progressions, their formalized in terpretation of motive and consequence.