American Energies: Essays on Fiction

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9780688106126: American Energies: Essays on Fiction
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Evaluates the postmodern literary scene and the effect the media have had on the way we think and write, and examines the diversity of the novelistic styles of such writers as Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and Leslie Marmon Silko

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Fifty-odd essays on American letters and the American scene, by Harvard critic Birkerts (The Electric Life, 1988; An Artificial Wilderness, 1987), most of which consist of reviews already published in The Nation, The Atlantic, The New Republic, etc. Birkerts is an active and intelligent writer who spent most of the past decade observing the intellectual trends of the day: postmodernism, deconstruction, ``cultural literacy,'' video-mania, minimalism, etc. There was a lot to talk about and it kept him busy at the task: not many contemporary writers, and few contemporary movements, escape his notice here. The construction of a ``postmodern'' sensibility seems to be Birkerts's most general concern: In several essays, he keeps coming back to the question of how technological advances and economic developments of recent decades have altered our perception of our selves and of the world. Unfortunately, he has little to say on the subject that has not long since become commonplace--that does not, ultimately, boil down to an assertion that everything-has-changed-and-we-have-to-figure- out-how-to-deal-with-it. The decline of literacy, the weakening of cultural bonds, and the possible collapse of reading as a mass activity in modern society have been remarked and discussed many times before; Birkerts needs--and, generally, fails--to provide some slant of his own to make these phenomena interesting. Similarly, in his treatment of particular authors, Birkerts rarely goes beyond the depth of flap-copy synopsis (as in his description of Henry Miller as ``Tough guy, bohemian, sexual threat, literary hero''). The best parts of the book are those that seem not to have been written as reviews (``Objections Noted: Word Processing,'' for example, or ``Teaching in a Video Age''), in which Birkerts is able to give his opinions freer play--but these are heavily outnumbered by the reprints. Recycled journalism: of interest for the subjects only, not for the author. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Birkerts's ( The Electric Life ) case against the main trend in contemporary American fiction need only be stated to be persuasively argued against: that the postmodern reality is a blight for writers. Today's novelist contends with a "depersonalizing force that grows exponentially every time the microchip is further refined"22 and with the complete triumph of television, which has trained a generation of novelists--and readers--in a "death-dealing aesthetic of flatness."310 Birkerts has little hope of reversing the main trend; he's content to note and praise writers of the countervailing ones who probe and assimilate experience and deliver a "skilled stacking of clauses"310 amid a "bob and weave of syllables."289 Barth, Updike and Oates are among those he admits to his canon?or some such? , but his loudest praise is for the neglected and unknown: Jack Pulaski ( The St. Veronica Gig Stories )289 and Alfred Alcorn ( The Pull of the Earth )310 , among others. Since most of these essays have been previously published, (the Nation , Ploughshares , etc.), we find the critic recapitulating his central jeremiad in individual reviews again and again--but not really amplifying it. The reading list is enticing, but Birkerts's short takes on fiction unfortunately serve in lieu of full-length, interlocking analysis.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Birkerts, Sven
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