American Fictions, 1940-1980 (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
Structuralism, semiotics, and deconstruction have no place in American Fictions, 1940-1980, for Frederick R. Karl believes it is the Americanness of American literature that is most important—a position that is sure to appeal to those who have grown weary in recent years seeing distinctive national literatures turned into grist for the various mills of European formalist theories. Karl is not, however, an isolationist critic; in fact, he argues that the strength of recent American fiction derives from the American writer’s willingness and ability to adapt American materials to the ideas and techniques of European modernism, which had surprisingly little influence on American novelists (except for William Faulkner and John Dos Passos) prior to World War II. Karl deliberately labels the innovative fiction of the postwar years “American modernism,” avoiding the more common term, “postmodernism,” in order to stress (as that high modernist T. S. Eliot would have said) the continuing presence of the past in contemporary American literature, which involves not a renunciation of the modernist legacy but instead a dialectic of old and new, European and American, tradition and the individual talent. In Karl’s view, the basic test of the American modernist writer is whether he can make his language accommodate his subject matter. Those who continue to employ traditional narrative techniques, and as a result improve their chance of winning popular...
(The entire section is 2195 words.)
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