Richard (Cory) Kostelanetz L. J. Davis - Essay

L. J. Davis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Kostelanetz introduces his new anthology of so-called innovative writing, "Breakthrough Fictioneers," with a long, peevish preface, the gist of which is (if I read it correctly) that fiction is pretty much anything he says it is, and the only valid innovation in it is going to follow, more or less, the lines laid down between these covers. This bold statement is accompanied by the usual pro forma assault on the blindness of the critics and editors of the world, and is footnoted by the rather astonishing statement that if James Joyce were alive and writing today, he couldn't get "Ulysses" published in a month of Sundays. One might be more inclined to indulge the point if only the writers Mr. Kostelanetz had selected were somewhat better at their jobs than they are.

The book—hectoringly punctuated by quotations from academic theorists who happen to agree with the editor, rather as if his craving were for Establishment legitimacy rather than artistic freedom—is a kind of cross between a lobotomy, a college literary magazine and a joke book. The selections are relentlessly minor. There are no names to conjure with here, no writing that makes you either want to stand up and cheer or denounce from the nearest soapbox. The strongest emotions that I experienced were, on the one hand, a fleeting smile, and, on the other, a barely audible sigh. (p. 49)

L. J. Davis, "Two Novels, an Anthology and an Alphabet," in The New York Times Book Review (copyright © 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 21, 1973, pp. 48-9.∗