By Michael Greaney (auth.)
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Extra info for Contemporary Fiction and the Uses of Theory: The Novel from Structuralism to Postmodernism
In a sense, Zapp and Robyn’s talks can be read as the ‘keynote lectures’ of their respective novels, formidably clever attempts to theorize pre-emptively the fictional narratives in which they appear. But although these lectures are conspicuously rich in clues about how to read Small World and Nice Work, these novels are constructed so as to resist and exceed the theoretical frameworks laid down by Zapp’s deconstruction and Penrose’s materialist feminism. Zapp’s lecture, which is obviously indebted to Roland Barthes’s well-known essay on striptease, argues that literary discourse tantalizes us with the promise of a final unveiling whose postponement in an ‘endless cycle of encodingdecoding-encoding’ (25) can yield only ‘masturbatory’ (26) pleasure for the frustrated reader.
As their paths cross and re-cross over a period of six years at conferences in Japan, the United States and Mexico, this argumentative quartet debate the condition and future of literary studies from every conceivable angle. In its depiction of their various conference papers, the novel contains some of the most strikingly ‘realistic’ and uncaricatured reconstructions of theoretical discourse in recent campus fiction. When Doddvic speaks on Woolf and materialist feminism (18–20), say, or when Midrash critiques the ‘traveling theory’ (51–5) of Edward Said, you get the sense that their arguments are being taken seriously and given a fair hearing, rather than simply being held up as choice examples of professorial gobbledegook.
4 Valuable though Graff’s historical perspective is, it offers little in the way of consolation for those scholars who harbour more utopian ideas of academic culture. 6 Meetings of the Mind focuses on the shifting relationships of rivalry, friendship and collaboration between the literature professor ‘David Damrosch’ and three fellow veterans of the conference circuit – the erudite dilettante Vic d’Ohr Addams, the feminist Marsha Doddvic and the Jewish deconstructionist Dov Midrash, DCA. As their paths cross and re-cross over a period of six years at conferences in Japan, the United States and Mexico, this argumentative quartet debate the condition and future of literary studies from every conceivable angle.