Style and Technique

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The story’s title, “Demonology,” refers to a demonology, a learned treatise on demons, often associated with the Middle Ages, as well as the narrator’s attempts to come to terms with his various personal demons. This division between the arcane and the colloquial is a stylistic device that permeates the story and illustrates postmodernism’s tendency to operate in at least two registers simultaneously. The story unobtrusively blends religious diction and terminology with clichés and everyday language. Frequently announcing the discrepancy between his melancholic, often esoteric, erudition and Meredith’s less self-conscious immersion in everyday life, the narrator invokes postmodernism’s recognition of the limits of discourse and representation.

The narrator wishes to construct a taxonomic description of reality—he wonders what species of shark his nephew’s costume was meant to signify. By contrast, Meredith is primarily interested in actively filling her days. Describing how his sister was never good in the morning without a cup of coffee, the narrator repeats the word “never” several times. This is a knowing allusion to the famous speech in William Shakespeare’s King Lear (c. 1605-1606), in which the bereaved king mourns how his murdered daughter Cordelia will never live again. That Moody incorporates this allusion into a series of sentence fragments further connects this story to postmodernist aesthetic techniques, which often favor the rhetorical mode of parataxis (the placing of phrases one after the other without connecting them) over synthesis.

Parataxis becomes especially crucial toward the story’s end. The narrator piles up numerous observations of what happens just before Meredith has her seizure, but he does not link them together in a causal fashion as much as list them through repeated conjunctions. It is as if Moody is deliberately slowing the story down so as not to have to report the fatal seizure. Merging content with form, Moody purposely shows his narrator anguishing over the generic and formal decisions he has made in telling Meredith’s story. This extreme self-consciousness, a hallmark of postmodern art, undercuts the narrator’s authority and announces his impotence before his subject matter.

Death cannot ultimately be represented; utter loss cannot be mediated through discourse. Moody’s use of postmodernist aesthetic strategies, however, does not mean that the story conforms to postmodern theoretical postulates regarding the self. According to postmodernist theory, individuals cannot be removed from the cultural discourses—particularly those pertaining to gender, race, and class—of their moments in history. “Demonology” maintains, however, that this understanding of human subjectivity is overly reductive. Although Meredith’s life is constrained by social, historical, and economic forces, the story is adamant that she cannot be so defined.

The story’s notable emphasis on photography highlights Meredith’s distinct individuality, further distancing the story from the attitudes of mainstay postmodernism. Photography as a mode of representation captures the specific nuances of the photographed subject. Although photographs can be faked or manipulated, ordinary snapshots hold the precise images of actual people as the camera shutter clicks at a singular, unrepeatable moment in time. As fiction, “Demonology” cannot reproduce either photographs of Meredith or those that she took. In making photography a subtext of the story, Moody accentuates that subjective agency cannot be ignored: Meredith posed for photos, but she also took them to document family life.

Finally, however, photography is insufficient for rendering the intricacies of experience. The narrator, pondering his sister falling asleep, worn out after a fatiguing day, recognizes that no camera can capture her unconscious dream life, a situation that is poignantly magnified when one considers a camera’s inability to capture the moment of someone’s death. By suggesting that there is something crucial to experience that is unique to each individual and cannot be represented and whose loss cannot be circumscribed by the communal, “Demonology” partakes of postmodernist aesthetics and its skepticism regarding discourse. However, the story ultimately moves beyond postmodernism as the dominant cultural paradigm of late twentieth century American culture.

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Themes