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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Title of this post comes from Sorrentino, who got it from Williams. The "G.S." in Paterson is Gilbert Sorrentino.

It's pretty much Louis Althusser's definition of ideology, as the imagined relationship to the real circumstances of our lives. Sorrentino uses what we call "metafiction" to talk about the phoniness of his characters' literary aspirations. They are bad poets and novelists. They aren't real (Sorrentino made them up and constantly reminds us of that) and they are "real" in the existential self (they are inauthentic). The only way of coming to terms with reality is to know that your literary constructions are fakery. Realism only takes place in anti-realism, because what we call realism is just conformity to ideological constructions.

Sorrentino hated the Marxist grad students at Stanford. They gave him a hard time because he was too "formalist." But he was a Flaubertian trying to dismantle the "idées reçues" all about him.

Literature presents idealized ideas about our relation to reality. The sensitive poet is one I hate very much. You know, the Mary Oliver-type poem where the speaker waxes sentimental about a deformed cat. That is about as convincing as the whore with a heart of gold, the rugged individualist, etc... All those social types out of central casting. The curmudgeonly boss you are really supposed to love.

Beware of any idealization that is supposed to fuse contraries, or resolve social difference through poetic trope. Beware of "magic realism" or "mestizaje."

2 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

Or the "multiculturalism" celebrated and derided in the 90s. (A reference to your lovely little final paragraph.)

Phaedrus said...

I'm not sure Gil "hated" those Marxist grad students. At any rate, from what I experienced Gil and these students hardly ever seemed to be talking about the same thing. I remember taking a truly excruciating colloquium in "PostModern Fiction" - the Marxist faction, led by Ed Cohen, always sat directly opposite Gil; those of us on the sides did a lot of wincing. (Dorothea von Mücke and Maria Damon were in that class.)

Sorrentino had a hefty amount of scorn for other writers (and for other teachers) - I remember his imitations of Bly and Updike, and how loudly we laughed when he was done.

The one literary person whom Sorrentino hated that I remember: Clayton Eshleman, who was a hack, he thought, and who was always on the make. But Gil's hatred was based on something personal. Sorrentino once told me the story of Eshleman sitting by Paul Blackburn as the latter lay dying and busily transcribing his last words; Gil's anger and disgust were vivid indeed; Eshleman's grotesque gesture was much more damning than Eshleman's literary fraud.