Explores the place of figuration in achieving literary ends
In This Mad "Instead" Arthur Saltzman investigates the breakthroughs and breakdowns of metaphorical operations in the writings of several contemporary American novelists. Focusing on representative fictions by Kathy Acker, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, William Gass, Steven Millhauser, Richard Powers, John Updike, and Paul West, Saltzman examines how each author establishes a provisional government over the elusiveness of truth, the ambiguity of experience, and the hardships of language itself. Saltzman reveals figuration to be both inevitable and inevitably unreliable, and he illustrates how these writers treat this condition not as an impasse but as a point of departure—indeed, as an artistic mandate and creative opportunity.
Saltzman demonstrates that these novelists explore the ways that metaphor may transcend mere decoration to inspire a structuring impulse and a mode of inquiry. He shows that even as it exposes its ruses, disclaims its findings, or simply deteriorates as it proceeds, metaphor brims with imagination's enterprise. What poet Howard Nemerov called "the beautiful inexact" and Wallace Stevens "the intricate evasions of as" becomes an open, flexible strategy for confronting the intractabilities of the word and the world alike.
Suggesting that while conclusions taper, metaphors embark, Saltzman comments on how metaphors make tentative connections, establish temporary fixes, and acknowledge misgivings to counter the marvels they coin. He admits that metaphors may seemingly render fiction unreliable as a moral prop, but he shows that they can reveal it to be a source of moral pleasure as it unites ethical and aesthetic gratification. Saltzman discusses how the linguistic virtuosity, resonance, ingenuity, and wonder that these texts exhibits are not distractions from their ethical duties; they are ethical demonstrations and accomplishments. In the hands of the authors that Saltzman considers here, the restless, quizzical, startling quality of metaphor—the madness of the mad "instead"—provokes new awarenesses, restores the forces of language, and tests the means and motives of contemporary American fiction.
Arthur Saltzman is the author of five other books, including The Novel in the Balance and Designs of Darkness in Contemporary American Fiction. He teaches English at Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, Missouri.
"He [Saltzman] argues that even as these authors reveal metaphor as unreliable, they use it to structure modes of moral inquiry. The resolution of moral and aesthetic gratification, he argues, is one of the major purposes of metaphor in contemporary American fiction."—Book News