Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Thursday 14 March 2002

"Problems and poetics of the nonaristotelian novel" by Leonard Orr

Chapter 1 looks at the various meanings of "form" and "unity". He quotes Tatarkiewicz when describing form as either arrangement, outline, essence, the observer's contribution or the aspect of the object visible to the senses (rather than the mind). Then he covers organic versus mechanical form.

He goes on to say (p.18) that 'Formalism appeals to literary critics as a distinctively "literary" discipline (since everything arguably "nonliterary" is theoretically excluded). ... Criticism as judgement or evaluation can now be seen to fall into the more gentlemanly (hence outmoded, amateurish, or dilettanish) realm to taste. ... The institutional appeal of formalism may be seen in the formalists' frequent calls for criticism to be like a science'

Then on p.20 he says 'unity in literary works is an essential part of the concept of form, and it must be achieved both through the author's imagination and through the audience, assimilating all of the information, seeing the structure (the beginning, middle, and end), and in seeing that all of the parts serve to inform the whole.'

Aristotle is behind many of these ideas, and also perhaps behind the idea that the quality of a text can be judged by assessing its unity. However, both coherence and strictness of form are more subjective than sometimes admitted. Do Pound's Cantos have form? Henry James said that "Form alone takes. and holds and preserves, substance - saves it from the welter of helpless verbiage that we swim in as in a sea of tasteless, tepid pudding". If James' Ambassadors had such a perfect form then why was the error of switching of chapters 28 and 29 not noticed for decades? As Kenneth Burke says, "Form, having to do with the creation and gratification of needs, is 'correct' in so far as it gratifies the needs it creates" ("Counter-Statement", UCP, 1968, p.138).

Of the various part/whole relationships, one not mentioned was that of a hologram, where (I think) if part of the recording medium is removed, the whole image is slightly degraded.

Chapter 2 looks at non-linear time. Some critics try to reconstruct a linear sequence of events from non-linear ("violated") forms. Others look upon them as super-real, echoing the chaos of modern (or Sterne's) life. But Robbe-Grillet's work fits neither mode - "each novelist, each novel must invent its own form", he wrote.

In chapter 3 detours from narrative (digression, description, interpolation) are looked at. Nostromo is studied in detail - a strange novel.

After that it's Alienation, OuLiPo and loads of notes. The book's a useful collation of material. I think what I found most interesting are the strenuous efforts made by some critics to convert nonaristotelian texts into aristotelian forms.

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