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ISSN 2227-6017 (ONLINE), ISSN 2303-9868 (PRINT), DOI: 10.18454/IRJ.2227-6017
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.23670/IRJ.2019.80.2.026

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Кузеев С. Е. «ПОПРАВКИ» ДЖ. ФРАНЗЕНА: ПРОЩАНИЕ С ПОСТМОДЕРНОМ / С. Е. Кузеев // Международный научно-исследовательский журнал. — 2019. — № 2 (80). — С. 135—137. — URL: https://research-journal.org/languages/franzens-the-corrections-parting-ways-with-the-postmodern/ (дата обращения: 16.09.2019. ). doi: 10.23670/IRJ.2019.80.2.026
Кузеев С. Е. «ПОПРАВКИ» ДЖ. ФРАНЗЕНА: ПРОЩАНИЕ С ПОСТМОДЕРНОМ / С. Е. Кузеев // Международный научно-исследовательский журнал. — 2019. — № 2 (80). — С. 135—137. doi: 10.23670/IRJ.2019.80.2.026

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«ПОПРАВКИ» ДЖ. ФРАНЗЕНА: ПРОЩАНИЕ С ПОСТМОДЕРНОМ

«ПОПРАВКИ» ДЖ. ФРАНЗЕНА: ПРОЩАНИЕ С ПОСТМОДЕРНОМ

Научная статья

Кузеев С.Е. *

ORCID: 0000-0003-4051-1676,

Университет Этвёша Лоранда, Будапешт, Венгрия

* Корреспондирующий автор (sergei.kuzeev[at]gmail.com)

Аннотация

В статье предпринимается попытка проанализировать роман Дж. Франзена «Поправки» как с точки зрения как его жанровой принадлежности, так и концептуального наполнения. Роман «Поправки», как и творчество Франзена в целом, принято рассматривать в качестве яркого примера критического переосмысления постиндустриальных общественных практик. По мнению автора статьи, однако, главное достижение Франзена – это выход за рамки сложившегося в последние десятилетия канона «постмодернистской» прозы (особенно в ее американском изломе), возвращение в «большую» литературу линейного сюжета, психологизма и элементов социального реализма.

Ключевые слова: Франзен, поправки, общество потребления, метамодернизм, американская проза, современный реализм, американская, культура.

FRANZEN’S “THE CORRECTIONS”: PARTING WAYS WITH THE POSTMODERN

Research article

Kuzeev S.E. *

ORCID: 0000-0003-4051-1676,

Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest, Hungary

* Corresponding author (sergei.kuzeev[at]gmail.com)

Abstract

In this essay, the author undertakes to analyze J. Franzen’s novel “The Corrections” in terms of both its genre aspects and conceptual scope. “The Corrections”, as well as most other Franzen’s oeuvre, is traditionally approached as a spectacular example of the postindustrial society criticism. In the author’s view, however, Franzen’s prime achievement consists in overriding the contemporary canon of postmodern prose (especially, of its American variety) by re-introducing the linearity of plot, psychologism and elements of social realism into the “literary” fiction.

Keywords: Franzen, corrections, consumerism, metamodernism, American fiction, modern realism, American culture. 

In the beginning of September, 2001––a week before America would change forever following the Al Qaida attacks–there came a book routinely classified by much of the critical community as yet another “great American novel”: J. Franzen’s “The Corrections”. To steer clear from this exasperating label, some commentators chose to qualify it as the “closing address” to the havoc of the 1990s, while others saw it as an attempt (however auspicious) of reviving social realism; but what most of the critical accounts shared in common was the recognition of the novel’s unusual amalgam of readability and intelligence–an ostensible sign of change in the literary landscape that has, over the last decades, been dominated by the high-browed artifice of flatulent fiction, often unreadable and unengaging.

A “novel of globalization”, an ingenious comment on the deficiencies of late capitalism, an eye-opener on the excrescence of the consumer economy and the global capital–such were the first responses to the book, in some of which Franzen was rather hastily identified as a ‘sensible’ American leftist (a misunderstanding that he would dispel in his next novel “Freedom”, where this political stance is overtly ridiculed). Indeed, Franzen’s concern with the “Nightmare of Consumption” [5, P. 107] voiced through the elegiac conventions of a family saga seems to pinpoint the plot and the whole of the novel’s artistry. “The more patently satirical the promises, the lustier the influx of the American capital” [5, P. 505] observes Chip Lambert–the key character, a university teacher (discharged for having an affair with a female student) and an alter-ego of Franzen himself–when he gets involved in a simulacrum political campaign for a Lithuanian statesman. The novel abounds with references to money-making as the only practical raison d’être and utilizes economic vocabulary to portray emotions and comment on mundane situations: thus, the marriage of Chip’s elder brother Gary “no longer contained sufficient funds of love and goodwill to cover the emotional costs” [5, P. 222], while one of Chip’s awakenings after a drinking bout felt “like a market inundated by a wave of panic selling” [5, P. 66]. The comic excesses of consumerism are most manifestly expounded when Enid, the simpleton mother of the Lamberts family, is offered, during a sea cruise, an illicit sedative drug–a discernible allusion to A. Huxley’s ‘soma’ of the “Brave New World”, a celebrated dystopia of the “post-Fordian” future. Franzen’s characters act as if colonized and subjugated by brands and corporations, while the trivia of their life are repeatedly articulated through a commodity metaphor–hence, Franzen’s detailed descriptions of meals, clothes, and bodily needs, in which things stand for people, as is the case with the family’s patriarch, progressively acatalepsic Alfred Lambert, who becomes his blue armchair.

The account of “The Corrections” outlined above is not implausible, if, however, disillusioning in establishing the novel’s originality: it is safe to assume that the animadversion of the American consumerism has been a source of inspiration for, arguably, most of the American writers since the World War II in this way or another with David F. Wallace’s (Franzen’s eminent influence) “Infinite Jest”––in which human existence is caustically equalized with watching a never-ending soap opera–as an acknowledged magnum opus of the genre. Based on Franzen’s self-commentary and the focused reading of “The Corrections”, we can, however, discern that apart from the social critique referenced above, the novel may just as righteously be viewed as a piece of meta-fiction that addresses the inextricable totality of the post-industrial mindset and, quite subtly, recapitulates on the “post-narrative” cultural settings.

The first eligibility criterion of this approach is hard to overlook: this is the distinct style and the contexture of “The Corrections” that “signal[s] a health-restoring way out of an allegedly exhausted postmodernism” [6, p. 56]. As Franzen confessed in one of the interviews: “Simply to write a book that wasn’t dressed up in a swashbuckling, Pynchon-sized megaplot was enormously difficult” [2]. This outspoken turn to the seemingly demoded, but–as it turned out following both the critical acclaim and the novel’s best-selling status––much sought-after narrative technique is what profoundly distinguishes Franzen’s prose from the endeavors of his many fellow artists. Focus on social reality, rectilinearity of story-telling, and the complex draughtsmanship of characters and scenery–in other words, all that is commonly associated with the “good old writing” pillared by the likes of Dickens or Balzac–are a trademark of “The Corrections” that steers wide around the late postmodernist methodology of eviscerated narrative and encyclopaedism, which, as Franzen notes in his critical account of Gaddis’s “J R”, endangers readership as such [4]. In his appreciation of this achievement, the influential Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin even ventured to compare Franzen with Leo Tolstoy and brand “The Corrections” as the American counterpart to “Anna Karenina” [8] based on the similitude between the two with regard to their symphonic structure, lucidity of allusions, and the clear-cut, but at once highly imaginative language. Whether or not Franzen was aware of this panegyric, he would later re-pay the homage by repeatedly mentioning “War and Peace” in “Freedom”, whose main protagonist Patty Berglund refers to Tolstoy’s oeuvre as the most compelling piece of fiction that she has ever read [3, p. 175]. In his seminal essay on Gaddis, Franzen outpours a somewhat shocking self-revelation:

I grew up in a friendly, egalitarian suburb reading books for pleasure and ignoring any writer who didn’t take my entertainment seriously enough […] I have started […] ‘Moby-Dick’, ‘The Man Without Qualities’, ‘Mason and Dixon’, ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, ‘Doctor Faustus’, ‘Naked Lunch’, ‘The Golden Bowl’, and ‘The Golden Notebook’ without coming anywhere near finishing them [4].

This does not, of course, typify Franzen as an unlettered posturer–his writing is quite illustrative of his erudition and literary dowry–but brings to surface the writer’s agency that Franzen considers to have been lost and that he conscientiously re-asserts: reading is supposed to be pleasurable, not intimidating. Franzen further confesses that in his veneration and passion for the classics of the American postmodern fiction–with De Lillo, Gaddis, and Pynchon on top of the list–what he lacks in their prose is “sympathetic characters” that have been replaced by “feeble, suspect constructs” and the inflated intellectual sophistry [4]. What is loosely referred to as the “postmodern” academic tradition, both in the US and elsewhere, has, for more than half a century now, been methodically making any way of writing virtually impossible by deconstructing authorship (R. Barthes), narrative (J. Derrida), and semiosis (J. Baudrillard). The post-structuralist literary theory and practice have been conferred the promethean status of the “myth annihilator”–but if there is no myth, there is no story, just like there is no actual matter in the quantum universe: its preposterous reality is construed of nothing more than probabilities.

In “The Corrections”–and later in “Freedom” and “Purity”–Franzen resuscitates the “socially engaged” storytelling and shapes the architectonics of his novel based on the time-honored models of family drama, adventure, and picaresque. His characters are unavoidably dysfunctional, and Chip Lambert–whose views and personal crises are of special significance in the context of this essay, since he impersonates a stereotypical intellectual of nowadays and Franzen himself–plays a highly symbolic role in the author’s construal of the social reality that he subjects to scrutiny. Chip’s uncanny doctoral dissertation investigates castration anxieties in Tudor drama; the sophisticated play script that he has been working on for several years is always back to square one; and, being a self-proclaimed “Foucauldian” scholar, he teaches a speculative course in “Textual Artifacts”, in which he tries to expose the deficiencies of the consumerist bonanza. But, despite this generally plausible mindset, Chip’s life is ridden with complications that the author ironically and as if in passing explains by the fact that Chip strongly “preferred queer theory to queer practice” [5, P. 57] (a similar remark on his being the only male who taught Feminist Theory at the university would appear later to reinforce the same antilogy). Thus, Franzen highlights the detachment of Chip’s personal experiences from his own creeds further evincing the absurdity of this postiche in the portrayal of his Lithuanian adventure, which, once again, reinforces Franzen’s pretense that lived experience has been replaced by the consumption of simulacra. It appears that Chip, while deconstructing the “metanarratives of the Western culture” within the academe, seeks desperately to appropriate one for himself as he realizes that the worth of one’s life is in the pursuit of happiness, not in the search for a reason of why it should be otherwise at all.

The title of the novel itself–in addition to being an homage to Gaddis’s “The Recognitions”–is meant to work in the similar vein: Chip is incessantly correcting his script, his sister Denise is correcting her sexuality and the relations pattern, their elderly father Alfred has all his life been correcting railway defects, and the Lamberts in general seem to be more preoccupied with correcting their life than with living it: “everyone is trying to correct their thoughts and improve their feelings and work on their relationship instead of just getting married and raising children like they used to […] We’ve bumped up to the next level of abstraction because we have too much time and money …” [5, P. 356].

Franzen’s practice of assiduously maintaining the boundary between what he sees as ‘high’ and as ‘low’ in the cultural domain is yet another manifestation of his critical approach to the fizzbuzz of the postmodern: in 2001 he refused to feature in Oprah Winfrey’s show to present “The Corrections” as the “Oprah’s Book of the Month”. Franzen explained his reluctance to appear on TV by the alleged “unpreparedness” of the show’s general audience for his prose, for which he was consequently labeled as a snob. But the truth is, Franzen’s literary snobbery is of a unique and subtle type, as he disarms himself by saying: “Fiction is storytelling, and our reality arguably consists of the stories we tell about ourselves” [4]. Franzen is, perhaps, today’s most prominent defender of readership and a generator of fresh literary paradigms that crystalize and translate into a reframed literary canon, which some critics term, rather predictably, as “meta-modern” or “post-postmodern”.

Конфликт интересов

Не указан.

Conflict of Interest

None declared.

Список литературы / References

  1. Annesley J. Market Corrections: Jonathan Franzen and the “Novel of Globalization” J. Annesley // Journal of Modern Literature. – 2006. – 29( 2). – P. 112––128.
  2. Antrim D. Jonathan Franzen [Electronic resource] / D. Antrim // BOMB Magazine. – 2001. – URL: bombsite.com/issues/77/ articles/2437 (accessed: 01.02.2018).
  3. Brodesser-Akner T. Jonathan Franzen Is Fine with All of It / T. Brodesser-Akner // Sunday Magazine. – 2018. – July 1. – P. 28.
  4. Franzen J. Freedom / J. Franzen / London: Picador, 2011.
  5. Franzen J. Modern Life Has Become Extremely Distracting [Electronic resource] / J. Franzen // The Guardian. – 2015. – October 02. – URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/02/jonathan-franzen-writing-freedom (accessed: 02.02.2018).
  6. Franzen J. Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books [Electronic resource] / J. Franzen // The New Yorker. – 2002. – September 30. – URL: newyorker.com/magazine/2002/09/30/mr-difficult (accessed: 03.02.2018).
  7. Franzen J. The Corrections / J. Franzen. New York, NY: Fourth Estate, 2001.
  8. Hidalga J. B. In the “Vacuum”: Political Readings and Misreadings of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels / J. B. Hidalga, R. Arias, M.L. Rodriguez and others // Hopes and Fears: English and American Studies in Spain. – Malaga: University of Malaga. – P. 55––59.
  9. Hawkins T. Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels: A Rejection of “Refuge” / T. Hawkins // College Literature. – 2010. – Vol. 37. – №. 4. – P. 61–87.
  10. Прилепин З. Книжная полка: «Поправки» Джонатана Франзена [Электронный ресурс] / З. Прилепин / URL: zaharprilepin.ru/ru/litprocess/knizhnaya-polka/dzhonatan-franzen-popravki.html (дата обращения: 05.02.2018).

Список литературы на английском языке / References in English

  1. Annesley J. Market Corrections: Jonathan Franzen and the “Novel of Globalization” J. Annesley // Journal of Modern Literature. – 2006. – 29( 2). – P. 112––128.
  2. Antrim D. Jonathan Franzen [Electronic resource] / D. Antrim // BOMB Magazine. – 2001. – URL: bombsite.com/issues/77/ articles/2437 (accessed: 01.02.2018).
  3. Brodesser-Akner T. Jonathan Franzen Is Fine with All of It / T. Brodesser-Akner // Sunday Magazine. – 2018. – July 1. – P. 28.
  4. Franzen J. Freedom / J. Franzen / London: Picador, 2011.
  5. Franzen J. Modern Life Has Become Extremely Distracting [Electronic resource] / J. Franzen // The Guardian. – 2015. – October 02. – URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/02/jonathan-franzen-writing-freedom (accessed: 02.02.2018).
  6. Franzen J. Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books [Electronic resource] / J. Franzen // The New Yorker. – 2002. – September 30. – URL: newyorker.com/magazine/2002/09/30/mr-difficult (accessed: 03.02.2018).
  7. Franzen J. The Corrections / J. Franzen. New York, NY: Fourth Estate, 2001.
  8. Hidalga J. B. In the “Vacuum”: Political Readings and Misreadings of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels / J. B. Hidalga, R. Arias, M.L. Rodriguez and others // Hopes and Fears: English and American Studies in Spain. – Malaga: University of Malaga. – P. 55––59.
  9. Hawkins T. Assessing the Promise of Jonathan Franzen’s First Three Novels: A Rejection of “Refuge” / T. Hawkins // College Literature. – 2010. – Vol. 37. – №. 4. – P. 61–87.
  10. Prilepin Z. Knizhnaya Polka: “Popravki” Dzhonatana Franzena [Bookshelf: “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen] [Electronic resource] / Z. Prilepin / URL: zaharprilepin.ru/ru/litprocess/knizhnaya-polka/dzhonatan-franzen-popravki.html (accessed on 05.02.2018). [in Russian]

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