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From: "Alice Turner" <pei047@attglobal.net>
Subject: (urth) Modernism continues (long and sort of boring)
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 16:54:46 

>> From: "Daniel Fusch" <dfusch@hotmail.com>
>> I think Wolfe's work is likely to last into the next century, although it
>> unlikely that he will receive much in the way of critical attention for
>> time to come.

Alga rejoins:
>Oh, I never meant that! I was making a point about his encompassing the big
>pulp traditions with these series, using every bit of the familiar cliches
>but making them into something bigger and richer so that readers to come
>could somehow absorb the 20th c. tradition without having to wade through
>the innumerable precursors.

The Rat adds:

I add this (depressing) thought:
	Wolfe's writing may be so complex, and so dependent on the tropes of SF,
that he will never make it into a "canon." It is hard to imagine non-SF
people reading it and thinking much of it, save that it is "weird and
well-written, but what on earth is he talking about?"
	Anybody have anything more positive to put out against such a negative

No, not more positive, but I do have some more not entirely coherent
thoughts (entirely skippable by those not much interested in the subject.)

When I was quite young, the hot modernist book was -The Recognitions- by Wm
Gaddis, which, thank goodness, I did not attempt to read at the time. Much
later, after I became interested in church history, I did read it (with a
pony, I confess) and now I love it in a qualified way. But it's a hard read,
then and now, and for people *not* interested in church history or the
abstract New York School of art, maybe not worth it. I'll bet a lot of the
younger people on this list haven't even heard of it. They *have* heard of
D.F. Wallace's -Infinite Jest- the hot modernist book of the moment, but,
for similar reasons (not church history, difficulty), the next generation
very probably will not have. At about the same time as Gaddis's
book, -Catch-22- also came out, and I think you could make a case for it as
a pop modernist novel (it also expressed a lot of young people's cynicism
about war, a new kind of cynicism). At any rate, it seems to have achieved
20th c. immortality. It's an easy read, however.

Whereas the "pure" American modernist movement (apart from young Wallace,
who's also pretty pure) has not fared well. Coover and Hawkes have retreated
into pornographic japery, Gass into essays, Barth into heaven knows what.
(I'm not sure he's still alive.) Gaddis was the biggest deal, and he's not
read. My guess would be that when 20th c. US survey courses are taught, the
modernist representative will be Barthelme, mostly because he's short, but
also he has a kind of elegance somewhat missing from the others. I don't
think the whole bunch of them are much loved.

The one modernist book to be loved isn't American, it's -Ulysses-. Why?
Well, call *me* cynical here, but it's the very first one that most students
tackle (chronologically) and it is *so* difficult that it creates a kind of
high in kids (it did in me). Once you have struggled through it, however,
you don't necessarily want to take on another one!

But scholars will read these books (culled). They are the 20th c.
experiment. They are a quirk of our times. And it is scholars and teachers
who will form the 20th c. canon. 20th c. genre fiction is sure to be taught
too, and this is where Wolfe may shine. They're hardly going to be teaching
Terry Brooks! But teaching Wolfe gives an opportunity to allude to all this
paperback fodder without actually having to dirty your hands. So, yes, I
think he will make it into a canon of sorts.

Whew. Sorry. I'll get back to normal soon.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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