[ilds] postmodernism & literary reputations

James Gifford james.d.gifford at gmail.com
Tue Oct 4 09:27:01 PDT 2016


Dear all,

Related to our discussion of postmodernism and literary reputations, I 
just happened on this interesting fragment in Gilbert Sorrentino's 
letters to John O'Brien (27 September 1974):

"It is permissible to be 'interested in' contemporary letters, so long 
as you are interested in the right kind. The 'line' runs from Henry 
Miller through Lawrence Durrell and thence to [John] Barth, [Donald] 
Barthelme, [Robert] Coover, [Thomas] Pynchon, down to our 'peers' – 
[Ronald] Sukenick, [Richard] Brautigan, [Jerzy] Kozinski [sic], et al. 
You are still safe with O.K. black folks like Ish[mael] Reed and LeRoi 
[Jones], but outside those two, you're not too cool. What I'm saying, of 
course, is heresy, i.e., 'contemporary literature' is only certain people."

I don't think this complaint would hold up today, but it's a fascinating 
context for the period and for O'Brien's discontents with then 
contemporary literary criticism that led to his founding of the Dalkey 
Archive Press.  The lineage makes perfect sense, but the contention that 
these figures block out others from reaching academia and the mainstream 
literary media doesn't seem viable in today's context.  Durrell and 
Miller are both outsiders to much of academic discourse now, as are 
those he lists as "peers" with the exception of Pynchon.

The quotation is taken from Abram Foley's article:

Foley, Abram. "Ghosts from Limbo Patrum: Dalkey Archive Press and 
Institutional Literary History." ASAP/Journal 1.3 (2016): 439-459.
DOI: 10.1353/asa.2016.0040

All best,
James


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