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12 November 2013
David Lodge and the Art-and-Reality Novel by Daniel Ammann, reviewed by Mark Staff Brandl
in The Journal of Aesthetics, Volume
51, Number 1, Winter 1993, pp. 89-90.
David Lodge and the Art-and-Reality
Novel by Daniel Ammann
Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitatsverlag, 1991, xii + 172 pp., DM 70.00 cloth,
DM 42.00 paper.
"Theory" has been having a dramatic impact on the practical creative
activities of artists, both visual and
verbal. Or at least on our discussions. One instance of this is renowned
postmodern Neo-Geo painter and critic Peter Halley's statement in a recent
interview that he "really can't read pure philosophy. My entire interest
is in critical theory" (Flash Art,
As a practicing
artist myself, I must admit that I am of the opposite bent, generally reading
only "pure philosophy," since
"theorizing" all too often seems only large generalizations muddily
reflecting philosophy, yet seldom backed by close observation or reading.
Nonetheless, in the
contemporary soirees of artist and writer meetings in bars, art fairs, or the
like, the discussions revolve around Theory – that is, linking or opposing one's works to each current wave
of Theory, be it structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction, or whatever.
This makes the question of how such
Theory affects artists more philosophically interesting than Theory itself-and
one question seldom directly addressed.
approaches this issue head-on in his study of the work of British novelist and
critic David Lodge. While writing in English, Ammann is Swiss. Switzerland, the
birthplace of structuralism, is also half-way between deconstructionist France
Germany, and affected by both. Additionally, Lodge is an excellent case in point;
he is active and prominent in the dual roles of novelist and critic. His
critical endeavors have profiled discussions of the ideas of prominent contemporary
theorists such as Baudrillard, Bakhtin and Foucault. Specifically, Lodge has edited two highly
influential collections of important source articles by the big names in
Theory: Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader (London and New York: Longman,
1988), and 20th Century Literary
Criticism: A Reader (London: Longman, 1972). For these compilations he supplied
introductory notes to each article, which often give clearer explication of the
anthologized authors' notions than the
articles themselves. Hence, through these works and his articles he has served
as a medium bringing Theory to the
people-that is, certain people: authors and artists.
In his own fiction
Lodge is at first glance a clear naturalist. The anti-modernist fiction of
Graham Greene is his self-acknowledged chief and obvious influence. Given this
surface realism, Lodge's critical interest in verbal allusiveness,
intertextuality, and other notions of
the broken text from recent poststructuralist popular theory seems incongruous.
However, in his novels Lodge attempts such a joining-occasionally successfully,
at other times not. How he strives to perform such a shotgun wedding, and why,
is the brunt of Ammann's text, and the point of interest for philosophers and
Ammann's book applies
Lodge's critical concepts and conceits to the author's own fictional writing,
and thereby treads a path into the thorny underbrush of Theory and its application.
Are these two as incompatible as most literary critics have been alleging, or as
indivisible as most art critics maintain? As the second half of its title
illustrates, this treatise deals with art-and-reality, or more correctly, their
linkage in the novel. A large term deserving of quotation marks, "art-and-reality"
is approached by Ammann in a three-fold discussion. The first five chapters comprise
section one, "Art Imitates Life"; the next four chapters constitute
section two, "Art Imitates Art"; and the remaining five chapters make
up, in a "cheerful symmetry," section three, "Life Imitates
Part one is aimed
exclusively at showing that Lodge's novels in fact do contain overt
intertextual self-awareness. While the least interesting section from the
standpoint I have outlined, in it Ammann rather masterfully and succinctly
proves this. By creating what Ammann characterizes as "heightened realisms"
(p. 37), Lodge pushes the traditional "readerly " text into the realm
of modernist (and occasionally postmodernist) aesthetics of representation. In several
discerning passages, Ammann shows that both as novelist and critic Lodge has
maintained a central commitment to "language at work." This is the
bridge between theory and practice that artists in general must endlessly
traverse, and which is developed in the following two sections.
The second section of
the book begins by naming and briefly capsulizing various forms of intertextuality
such as allusion, quotation, pastiche, and parody. While covering no new
ground, Ammann offers concise explanations, verging on reappraisals of these
techniques. Interestingly, he discusses them from the standpoint of an author's
conscious use – intention – not the recent passive construction of "the workings
of a text." Most valuable, although brief, are Ammann's suggestive
observations on the existence of "embedded criticism" in the
structure of artworks (pp. 68-72). Principally he discusses how a text may,
through parody and pastiche, intertextually both honor and question the
tradition in which it stands. This grouping of chapters concludes by exploring
and assessing Lodge's rather surprising use of extended subtexts, such as the
Grail Legend in Small World. Here
Ammann presents Lodge in the guise of something like an inverted James Joyce.
Greene and Joyce – a strange pairing of influences, but Ammann gives a clear,
and I think accurate, account of this dynamic.
The most intriguing
discussions occur in the third and final division of the book. Ammann shows how
Lodge's characters develop from literary association to the actual re-enactment of literature in
life in his most recent works. Lodge is presented in this treatment as a
realist, who naturalistically describes the fact of intertextual life. This is
a novel and illuminating appraisal of an odd strategy to unite the tensely polar
elements of Lodge's thinking. As Ammann says of this approach, the author
believes that "the immediacy of experience is constantly interfered with by
perceptive patterns and conceptualizations from literary texts. Fiction, then,
while it successfully defamiliarizes what we have become habituated to, also
prepares us for, and thus weakens, the intensity of new experiences by verbal
anticipation" (personal communication).
This necessarily melancholic assessment explains what a fusion of art
practice and interest in (perhaps paranoia about) Theory yields in much
contemporary production – mannerism. And Ammann shows that in Lodge's novels
this neo-mannerism like its precursor can have its own Pontormoesque delights,
albeit attenuated and a bit forced.