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The Death Of Fiction

The Death Of Fiction, ed, by Nathan Childers, Varinoma Press, 1997, San Luis Obispo, hardcover.

In 1994 Pere Jacques created a sensation with his ground-breaking essay, The Death of Fiction, which did for fiction what Nietzsche did for God. The noted author and literary critic, Nathan Childers, has gathered together in a single volume premier articles representing a wide variety of significant responses. In the introduction Childers speaks of the editors task as being more that merely identifying the battle ground and the principal contenders and ensuring that their voices are heard. By his selections the editor creates a structure which, if they are well chosen, decenters and deconstructs itself when closely read. He observes that this cannot be done as such but that the editor is both present and absent in the texts and hence is inevitably deconstructed.

The collection begins with Pere Jacque’s seminal essay. We need not rehearse here his arguments and observations which have been the subject of so much controversey. Suffice it to say that the core of the possibility of fiction is gone, that it is rotted away, and that what we see now are various forms of ersatz fiction, shadows which decay as they are assembled. His thesis, that there is an essential contradiction within the practice of creating fiction, that innocence calls forth technique which destroys innocence, is both disturbing and irrefutable, as such.

The voice of cultural conservatism is answered for by William “Bull” Morris who argues by analogy with his critique of Nietzsche’s “God is dead” aphorism. It is true, he says, that the cultural traces of God within institutions and circles of thought can decay and “stink”. It is, he says, an error to argue from such evidences that God is Dead. They speak to men falling away from God, something that always happens, and is always transient and ephemeral for when denials end and men fall silent, God is still there. In the same way, when the critics and the shmaltz-meisters lay down their pens, fiction returns, changed perhaps and in new forms perhaps, but it returns for the possibility of and the need for fiction is still there.

Elfrieda Eppingham Von Basingstoke speaks, perhaps, for orthodox literary theory, if there is such a thing. She deconstructs Pere Jacques as though she were Derrida, himself, complete with the tropes of a bloodless violence. She situates herself firmly within his texts and although she reverses hierarchies and reinscribes texts she does not disturb his thesis. If Pere Jacques writes non-fiction about fiction, here deconstruction is a fiction about non-fiction about fiction. The editor notes in commentary that her essay is an argument by example that deconstruction is fiction.

Rodney McFinister argues vigorously genre fiction is the true successor to fiction as conceived in the 18’h and 19’th centuries. He makes two main arguments. The first is that the liberation in the 20’th century of fiction from classical constraints was illusory, that capricious and arbitrary constraints (from the author’s point of view) are necessary, that their removal leads not to literary freedom but to literary death. He argues that it does not matter what the constraints are so long as they are arbitrary and capricious – the market constraints of genre fiction serve as will as classical literary dicta.

He also argues an analogy from history in the style of Spengler. As the old centers of civilization decay new centers spring up in the barbarian periphery. Initially they are inheritors and imitators of the old centers. With time they create new civilizations while they believe that they are continuing the old. So it is with fiction, he says, casting the traditional novel in the role of the old, and species of genre fiction in the role of the new. It is an interesting idea. It is a pity that his grasp of history is so poor.

The remaining half dozen contributors are notable more for their tedious prolixity than for any profundity. The sole exception is the redoubtable Sir Roger Hornblower who contribution consists of but a single word, “Codswallop”. Despite the weakness of the minor contributors this work is essential for anyone who wants to buy this book.

The noted literary critic and columnist, Mario Taboada, writes in commentary:

The redoubtable Mr. Harter left out some important information about “The Death of Fiction”.

a) A preliminary version of the manuscript, in condensed version, appeared in Rejecta Literaria, Vol. III, No. 6, pp. 177-201.

b) The book is distributed by Remainders, Inc.

c) There is a postscript by Brer Jacques’s Brother, in which he reminisces about the old days and describes Brer Jacques’s kitchen and shaving habits in some detail.

d) This is a book that, according to how one looks at it, and depending on how one views the circumstances that may or may not have led to its writing, as well as the weight one lends to the philosophical issues it may or may not address – including a possible although not likely coupure in places that, though not obvious, might perhaps prove evident in the light of the work of Levinas – would, in time and with due consideration to late Husserl, not to mention Heidegger’s pioneering efforts towards the application of sartorial methodologies to putative dichotomies which, ultimately, turn to deconstructions of evil in order that, in due course (not a straight but rather a circular, or perhaps a spiral course), might lead to a slightly better elucidation of the dialogic of mortuary science.

Editorial note: Pere Jacques was affectionately called Brer Jacques by his brother.

This page was last updated September 25, 1997.