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Robert Kroetsch.

Edmonton, Ne-West Press, c1982.
(Western Canadian Literary Documents, Volume III).
246pp, paper, $17.95 (cloth), (paper) $7.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-920316-41-7 (cloth), 0-920316-39-5 (paper).

Reviewed by Robert E. Wheeler.

Volume 11 Number 4.
1983 July.

There is much in the current literary scene to suggest that Hermann Hesse was a sound prophet when he imagined, for his Magister Ludi, a monkish hierarchy of pundits adoring knowledge in the form of a game. The average reader may be pardoned for feeling that the abundance of word-play, mythic structures, and recondite symbols found in the typical avant-garde novel presents a formidable obstacle to comprehension and enjoyment. Many have concluded that contemporary literature is little more than a collection of runes, Rosetta stones, and esoteric conundrums.

The problem is complicated by a failure to understand what the modern word-smith, spurning the traditional novel, is trying to accomplish. Today we are faced by a distinctive kind of literary imagination, one that insists on having its general frame of reference within itself; it thus practices the solipsism of which Alien Tate accused the modern mind. Or, as Schopenhauer would say, we create the world in the act of perceiving it. The writer, recoiling from a frustrating actuality, cultivates a compensatory universe, a fabulist retreat in which prosaic reason, with its Procrustean limitations, no longer applies. Notable examples: Giles Goat-Boy, by John Barth, Pale Fire by Nabokov, and the fantastic tales of Borges and Italo Calvino. In Labyrinths of Voice, we are offered a fascinating array of opinions and interpretations pertaining to the mythopoeic faculty. Robert Kroetsch, fashionable author of The Studhorse Man, What the Crow Said, and other delightfully picaresque novels, discusses the various writers who have influenced his work and comments on the experiences that have inspired it.

Readers with sufficient interest in experimental fiction will find this volume a helpful, if somewhat pretentious, guide. Among the topics explored are: changing concepts relating to language, the function of mythic patterns, the current use of parody, and the various novelistic devices employed by Pynchon, William Gass, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Kroetsch. Throughout the interview, the voices of other novelists, poets, and critics participate, providing a broad perspective on such mandarin themes as game-theory, the eternal quest motif, double structures, and non-linear narrative techniques. The general conclusion seems to be that writers today have become more interested in the signifiers of language, more involved with language as process, implying that the traditional faith in language as a valid source of knowledge has weakened, a situation that promises to give the fecund imagination freedom to indulge a coveted irresponsibility. One probable result is that the post-modernist hagiographies of tomorrow may enshrine amiable rascals like Tyl Eulenspiegel as the ultimate saint, the inevitable offspring of the prevailing nihilism.

The book contains a good selected bibliography, several pages of notes, and a comprehensive index. In sum, it is a handy Ariadne's thread to have in the labyrinth of contemporary literary criticism.

Robert E. Wheeler, Gananoque, ON.
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