A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real Worldby Morris Dickstein
In a famous passage in The Red and the Black, the French writer Stendhal described the novel as a mirror being carried along a roadway. In the twentieth century this was derided as a naïve notion of realism. Instead, modern writers experimented with creative forms of invention and dislocation. Deconstructive theorists went even further, questioning/i>… See more details below
In a famous passage in The Red and the Black, the French writer Stendhal described the novel as a mirror being carried along a roadway. In the twentieth century this was derided as a naïve notion of realism. Instead, modern writers experimented with creative forms of invention and dislocation. Deconstructive theorists went even further, questioning whether literature had any real reference to a world outside its own language, while traditional historians challenged whether novels gave a trustworthy representation of history and society.
In this book, Morris Dickstein reinterprets Stendhal's metaphor and tracks the different worlds of a wide array of twentieth-century writers, from realists like Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather, through modernists like Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett, to wildly inventive postwar writers like Saul Bellow, Günter Grass, Mary McCarthy, George Orwell, Philip Roth, and Gabriel García Márquez. Dickstein argues that fiction will always yield rich insight into its subject, and that literature can also be a form of historical understanding. Writers refract the world through their forms and sensibilities. He shows how the work of these writers recapturesyet also transformsthe life around them, the world inside them, and the universe of language and feeling they share with their readers.
Through lively and incisive essays directed to general readers as well as students of literature, Dickstein redefines the literary landscapea landscape in which reading has for decades been devalued by society and distorted by theory. Having begun with a reconsideration of realism, the book concludes with several essays probing the strengths and limitations of a historical approach to literature and criticism.
[An] admirable new collection of critical essays. . . . [E]very page in the volume displays curiosity, incision and surprise.
"Moving from Melville to Bellow, from Wharton to Roth, Dickstein follows the novel's progress and the trends of literary theory to show that every period produces a literature that reflects something essential about the age."Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World
"A firm traditionalist, Dickstein takes issue with deconstructive theorists, who see literature as a separate, self-referential world of language, and with new historicists who deny fiction its integrity by grounding it too stubbornly in a social context that may not be relevant to the writer's purposes. . . .The best pieces engage in a quirky and personal way with their subjects."Madeleine Minson,Times Higher Education Supplement
"Beginning with how American writers like Whitman, Melville, Wharton, Ellison and Bellow variously depicted life in New York City, literary critic Dickstein examines an array of authors in relation to their historical moments and explores the significance of how they represented their worlds. . . . [He] makes a case for the social awareness of F. Scott Fitzgerald's late, Depression-era writing, and reflects on the notion of alienation, and on the enigmatic sensibilities of Kafka and Beckett."Publishers Weekly
"Blending cultural history and literary biography with the barest traces of memoir, Dickstein has produced in his newest essay collection that rarest of species of literary criticism: one as genial to the general reader as to the academic."Library Journal
"Twenty illuminating essays . . . on literature's elusive, prophetic interpretations of a changing American society. . . . A fine, accessible collection."Kirkus Reviews
"If Mr. Dickstein were a less intelligent critic, his book might be more aggressively polemical. As it is, what he offers is . . . a series of thoughtful studies. The book makes one envy Mr. Dickstein's students who get to be introduced to these writers . . . by a critic of such warm and varied sympathies. And even an experienced reader will make some new acquaintance in these pages."Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun
"[An] admirable new collection of critical essays. . . . [E]very page in the volume displays curiosity, incision and surprise."Ilan Stavans, Forward
"A particular strength of this volume is its deft combination of historical and formal reading practices; Dickinson brings together literature's social and aesthetic registers to produce insightful discussion of canonical authors. . . . A strong contribution to American literary criticism."Choice
"Good news is at hand, and Morris Dickstein's new book is an example of it. He actually enjoys talking with us about literature, here mainly the novel."Jeffrey Hart, National Review
"Dickstein wants to show that the real world counts, and suffuses fictions. . . . Weve learned . . . to see Stendhal better and to regard novels not so much as mirrors but as "prisms" with many facets that refract and refresh the world we know."Jay Martin, Antioch Review
- Princeton University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)
What People are saying about this
Harold Bloom, author and literary critic
Maria DiBattista, Princeton University
Richard Rorty, Stanford University
Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
Norman Mailer, author
Ross Posnock, New York University
Roger Rosenblatt, commentator and journalist
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >