John (Clendennin Burne) Hawkes (Jr.) 1925–
American novelist, short story writer, dramatist, poet, critic, and editor.
Hawkes is an extraordinary stylist whose primary interest is the psychic and imaginative processes of human beings. His work is difficult and demanding, full of scenes intended to startle and even repel the reader. By "violating" his audience's sense of normalcy and propriety, Hawkes hopes to jar it into new levels of awareness of the beautiful and dangerous capabilities of the human imagination. Hawkes himself describes his fiction as travels through the landscape of the psyche. He emphasizes its brutal and absurdly comic aspects in order, conversely, to understand what it means to feel compassion.
With the publication of The Cannibal (1950) and The Beetle Leg (1951) Hawkes gained a reputation as an eccentric, avantgarde novelist and a radically innovative stylist. Set in desolate waste lands and full of sadistic violence, these two novels depict the human attempt to impose order on chaotic reality with such things as art, religion, and love. These forces prove powerless, however, against the violence that emerges as the prevailing reality in these novels. Hawkes's theme of the beauty and horror of the human imagination is considered most developed in The Lime Twig (1961). Compared to the earlier works, this novel has a more conventional structure, but the prose is still considered experimental even though it is less fragmented and surreal. Second Skin (1964) marks Hawkes's more extensive use of artist-heroes and their attempts to enforce their vision upon the world.
Hawkes's "comic triad" of the early 1970s—The Blood Oranges, Death, Sleep, & the Traveler, and Travesty—helped solidify critical opinion of him as one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century. The protagonists of the triad, in their attempts to simultaneously experience and control reality, reflect the human desire to find order and harmony in the world. The novels are farcical in their portrayal of ambitions fulfilled or denied, yet poignant in their observations of how sexuality defies the control of individuals. Travesty has won special attention for its satire on the human need to organize and explain. Hawkes's recent works, The Passion Artist (1979) and Virginie: Her Two Lives (1982), further his examination of the psychic process.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 14, 15; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)