László Krasznahorkai’s novels are balanced between a precarious inertia and total collapse. The animating tension of his work resides not, as is the case in more conventional novels, in questions of who did what or what happens next, but in the question of what such a total collapse might look like, given the pervading sense of its inevitability.
It would seem that it was in Beckett that he found the literary model for a kind of narrative based on a deconstruction of received knowledge, on doubt as an instrument of style that could be inserted into an historical reconstruction, and, indeed, for a defence of the individual person and an openness to a visionary spirituality.
As Swift knew, his complex irony can be challenging. He was aware that he had often been misunderstood, to his own detriment. Looking back on his own life, he concluded that “Had he but spar’d his Tongue and Pen, / He might have rose like other Men”. His irony, Hammond observes, “sometimes seems to saw through the branch of religious orthodoxy upon which he tried to perch”.
Central to Alice Munroe’s aesthetic is the device, though it is really much more than a device, of jumping back and forward in time, enabling readers to hold multiple strands of the narrative in their consciousness, creating cross-sections of event and feeling that allow for rich expression of pathos and irony.
As Updike’s word count mounted, so did the rancour. The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani, considered by many the most powerful literary critic in America, regularly savaged his work. Over the last decade she accused successive novels of being “bogus in every respect”, “shopworn”, “cringe-making” and “claustrophobic”. Indeed the regularity of her vitriol was such that that when she gave the posthumously published My Father’s Tears a favourable notice, literary blogger Shane Barry commented: “We now know what Updike had to do to get a good review out of Kakutani.”
Tin Pan Alley’s imaginative impoverishment, its slack tempi and banal lyrics, were nothing but expressions of limits and control, as ersatz as they were dispassionate. This kind of thing might be Big Brother’s idea of a good time, but it was pretty obviously just another of the many mind games he practised back in the good old days, when he wasn’t the family member he’s since become. One thing about progressive music was that it came across as self-consciously averse to being commercial. This greatly helped its sales.