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Wittgenstein's Ghost

Wittgenstein's Ghost, Rodney McFinister, Varinoma Press, Oxnard CA, 2004, pbk, 219 pp.


It is not entirely clear why Varinoma Press published this work. One might object, as most reviewers have, that at best it is turgid and mildly soporific. So it is, and yet that is not to the point; such a criticism describes more than half of the Varinoma list. Trade rumor has it that the daughter of one of the editors flunked a literary theory course, and that the editor commissioned McFinister to enact a literary revenge.

The novel is future fiction, but not science fiction. The protagonist is the last literary theorist. As the last of his kind his position in the university is preserved per the endangered species act. Sans students, he teaches a course, English for Jocks, that is an automatic A. Attendence not being mandatory, he lectures to an empty room, detailing his latest deconstructions to peeling walls that have heard it all before. When not teaching he conducts his literary researches and publishes them in the Journal of Unreadable Literary Theory, an electronic journal accessed only by himself, search engines, and an AI program that has mistaken his work as being modernist poetry.

Opposing him is another academic relict, the last defender of the canon of Western Civilization. The story is a series of scenes of conflict between our theorist and our canonist, all played against a background in which both are irrelevant, in which they are eccentrics battling within an academic zoo. They conduct their war on a public bulletin board that otherwise is entirely occupied by messages from lovers arranging assignations. There is a bit of low comedy when one of the denunciations is mistaken for a solicitation by one of the students.

The idea has possibilities, but McFinister was not the right author to realize it. McFinister is a master of the modern genre novel; he regularly produces mysteries, science fiction, westerns, and regency romances. However he needs the confines of genre fiction; without them as a guide his plots are confused, his writing leaden, and his dialog distressingly accurate.

Perhaps the most entertaining page of the book is the back cover containing reviewer's comments. Back covers usually contain puffery written by fellow authors who expect to get the same service in return. This back cover contains anguished (and rather angry) reviews from MLA flacks.


This page was last updated July 1, 2004.
Copyright © 2004 by Richard Harter

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