Most recent "Great American Novels" are not great, but merely big. Lynne Tillman's American Genius, A Comedy, by contrast, is designed with scale, not size, in mind. So argues Kasia Boddy, who reads the novel as a critical engagement with book reviewers' favorite cliché for ambitious social fiction. Instead of resisting cultural obsolescence through sheer assertion, Tillman's book examines how the cracks and contradictions of American ideology have imprinted themselves on the individual body, bearer of the national disease: sensitivity.
"Like skin, the comma both connects and divides." Peter Nicholls traces Tillman's endlessly subordinating, endlessly equivocating sentences, showing how their quest for historical and social clarity passes through an interminable sequence of deferral and denial.
How does one write science fiction when the atom bomb (and later 9/11) makes the future seem impossible to predict? Justin Roby reviews Paul Youngquist's Cyberfiction: After the Future, which explores how postwar "cy-fi" critiqued life in the age of cybernetic control systems.
Two innovative contemporary writers discuss the relationship between encyclopedic narrative and notions of gender and writing, the body as the physical embodiment of memory, and the unique syntax of Tillman's American Genius, A Comedy. The novel's prose depicts the way "thought, when you're not thinking, happens."
Stephen Burn connects Don DeLillo's fifteenth novel, Point Omega, with the author's long-running investigation into the structures of the mind. Using an elusive narrative architecture, images from a slowed-down film, and moments of second- and third-order observation, the novel dramatizes the mind's pre-conscious fiction-making processes.
In this review-essay, James J. Pulizzi reads Joseph McElroy's 1977 novel, Plus, as a Bildungsroman for the posthuman: instead of tracing the development of a subject, the novel traces the development of processes that call the very idea of a subject into question. As a human brain adjusts to its new housing in an experimental satellite, the text unfolds in a series of re-entries and re-mappings, an unfolding that necessarily implicates the reader.
Minds bind - make coherent meaning from distributed processes - and narratives do, too.
The means by which they do so remains a mystery, however. Kiki Benzon suggests that this mystery is at the heart of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, a text whose layered structure, typographical blending, and central metaphor - a house much bigger than the sum of its parts - enact the problem of binding on multiple levels.
D. Fox Harrell considers how a media theory of the "phantasmal" - mental image and ideological construction - can be used to cover gaps within electronic literary practice and criticism. His perspective is shaped by cognitive semantics and the approach to meaning-making known as "conceptual blending theory."
Eric Dean Rasmussen explores Lynne Tillman's "cognitive aesthetic," suggesting that her work is powered by the generative disconnect between asignifying affect and signifying emotion. He argues that her 1998 novel, No Lease on Life, examines the role of affectively sustained universal values in responding politically to the neoliberal city.