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The Aesthetics of Post-Realism and the Obscenification of Everyday Life: The Novel in the Age

The Aesthetics of Post-Realism and the Obscenification of Everyday Life: The Novel in the Age of Technology Author(s): Madelena Gonzalez Source: Journal of Narrative Theory, Vol. 38, No. 1, Realism in Retrospect (Winter 2008), pp.

111-133

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Theory.

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The

Obscenification

The

Aesthetics

Novel

of Post-Realism

of Everyday

Age

and

Life:

in the

of Technology

Madelena

Gonzalez

the

This articlewill examine how a post-realist aestheticssituatedwithina Baudrillardeanrealmof simulacrahas come to dominatemuchof contem- porary fiction.The excessive consciousness of the "real" as mere artifice

leads many seriousauthorsto engage in an ongoingmockery of mimesis. Yellow Dog (MartinAmis, 2003), Fury (Salman Rushdie,2001), Dorian:

An Imitation (Will Self, 2002), and The PowerBook (JeanetteWinterson, 2000) are all works by major, well-establishedwriterswithinternational reputations, and they have been chosen in an attempt to illustratesome of thedominanttendenciesin theBritishnovel today.They all seek to renew

a doubtingdiegesis through constant self-reference, whetherit be to their own statusas textsor through recourseto a perverted and ironicintertex-

tuality which is used to bolster up their beleaguered poetics. As they en- gage in the cloning of creativity in orderto produce the endless replicas and debased imitationsof compromisedoriginals, which they make avail- able to theirreadersas examples of a late postmodernand, usuallyvirtual, "reality," the very mediumor mode of expression of thenovel is put into question. The rampanttechnophilia which characterizesthese examples may be representative of a wider tendency in the twenty-firstcentury novel forwhich technology constitutesbothan opportunity for experimen- tationbut also an essential threatto its future.1In competition with the

JNT:Journal of

JNT:Journal of Narrative Theory.

Narrative Theory 38.1 (Winter2008): 111-133. Copyright © 2008 by

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World Wide Web of stories, the networkedenvironmentof the internet, many writersfeel theneed to flextheir literarymuscles,committing their

textsto excess and the extreme, not only thematically, but also formally and linguistically.By "blinding" the readerwiththeirown formof "sci- ence," reinventing literarinessas demotic ornamentation, thesenovels are

in the process of re-appropriating the space usurpedby the contemporary technoversewithits levelingimpulse. The symbolicpoverty caused by the spread of industrial technology to all spheres of human conduct is thus

being challenged by a desperateattempt to re-aestheticizeour so-called post-realexperience and thereby reconnectus to a consciousness of the political and theethical.

Afterthe Last Post

"Apocalypse is already here"

- Jean Baudrillard,Requiemfor theTwinTowers

Is a post-realistic mode themostviable way of writing about 21st-century experience, or even the only way? The writersexamined here obviously

thinkso.

takenoverthenarrativefunctionofthe novel, whichleaves it"freefor po-

etry and for language thatdoes morethan conveymeaning"("The.Power- book"). This questioning of the relationship between language and mean- inggoes handin handwiththe problematic statusofthe real, as explicated

by JeanBaudrillardand other proponents of ultra-postmodernism. Even TerryEagleton,hardly a champion of postmodernthought, is ready to con- cede thatthe disappearance ofthereal has in itselfbecome a cliche ofcon-

temporaneity: "Yet what nobody could have predicted was thatWestern civilizationwas just on thebrinkof going non-realistitself. Reality itself had now embraced the non-realist, as capitalistsociety became increas-

inglydependent in its everydayoperations on myth and fantasy, fictional

wealth, exoticismand hyperbole,rhetoric, virtual reality and sheer appear- ance" (67).2 We undoubtedly live in an age which either prides itself on, or has

scareditself into,being

"The recurrent, almostritualisticincantationof the preposition'post' is a

symptom, I believe, of a global crisis in ideologies of the future,particu-

According

to Jeanette Winterson, television and cinema have

"post-everything." As Anne McClintock explains,

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 113

larly the ideology of 'progress'" (93). This epoch of "urbi-postness" is thusalso one of disillusionmentand crisis,catastrophe and ongoingapoc-

alypse,artificially enhancedbutalso

its daily performance on our television screens, via radio waves or thein- ternet.The now all-pervading self-consciousnessof the Westernworld,

engaged in incessant contemplation of its own (not veryglorious) doings, has invaded contemporary fiction, which is likewise characterized by an

obsession with overexposure. Hence the thrivingindustry in metafiction and general self-reflexivenesswhichhas now long been mandatory in the marketforall genres of seriousfiction.Withinthiscontextof compulsive,

if critical,narcissism, the ordinary and the quotidian endlessly contem-

plated take on theluriddetailof the pornographic. The

tionof everyday lifesuch as is witnessedon reality TV, for example,pres-

surizes many novels into adopting ever more explicitpositions and poses in attempts to redeem themselvesfrom banality and to recapture a lost originality. However, this only vitiatesintercoursebetween medium and

spectator,making a mockery of

if interactive,peepshow. Contemporary novels and, indeed, artin generalparticipate in the loop of repetition, imitation, and fascinationwith banality. The specter of Andy Warhol's soup cans haunts representation withthethreatof endless repro- ductioninsteadof infinitecreation. Playful self-consciousnessis intended

to provide absolutionfromthecrimeof copying, as if the meta-import of

any workof artcould make up forthelack of originality. The phrase

scenificationof everyday life," a quote fromYellow Dog where

head" is thelatestin fashionablecocktails, is a leitmotifin all thesenovels

(Amis 11, 35). Most obviously and predictably, it appears in the frequent portrayals of particularlyexplicit and, at times, outlandishor unsavory sex: a princessbeing serviced by a tulip in The PowerBook , incestin Fury

and

cantlyenough,already

( Dorian 68; Feeding Frenzy208). More

way thatthe characters depicted in these fictionalworlds have lost touch

with authenticity.They are mere replicas, but not even of

all identitiesare borrowedand may be shucked on or off again at a mo-

trivialized by incessant mediation,by

obsessive descrip-

mimesisand replacing itwithan obscene,

"ob-

"Dick-

Yellow Dog, the "conga line of buggery" in Dorian, a phrase,signifi-

recycled froma televisionreview of Big Brother

interestingly, it is patent in the

themselves, for

ment's notice, as the followingquote suggests: "Remember, Dorian can be whatever you wanthim to be - a punk or a parvenu, a dodgy geezer or a

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doting courtier, a wittyfop or a Cityyuppy"(108). In Fury this tragic lack of originality is actually materialized through theconceitof masks which are used to effecta coup on an island in theSouth Pacific. All thatis said

and done carries the painful stigmata of several layers of deja vu: an

abortiveknife attack

Tarantinofilms and, in thesame novel, murderersdress up in Disney cos- tumesto perpetrate theirdeeds. These "individuals," if they can be called such, are presented as cliches of theirown making who are easily reduced

to specific traits:the Earl-Grey-sipping Dorian, wistfully and nostalgically nodding at Oscar Wilde one momentand shootingup the next; the sup-

posedly Kray-likeJoseph Andrews, about as convincinglyterrifying as a villain fromEastEnders as he slumps over his Zimmer frame; theembar- rassingly amorous narratorof The PowerBook withambitionsto join the top tenof "great and ruinous lovers," butwho makes love to her keyboard

alone (Winterson77). The literaryhangover fromthe great works (Wilde, Woolf, Kafka, Nabokov, Swift,Dante, Boccaccio, Malory, Donne, and Shakespeare) ex- periencedthrough thebloodshot eyes of theoverdoserscontributesto the

impression thatreadershave of witnessingsomethingillicit, of beingparty to a sacrilegious textfest, accentuated by the risque subject-matter: sex, vi- olence, crime,deviancy. However, more disturbing thanthisis the jaded experience of life, theconstant "in-yer-face-ness" of the daily violence of existence, which progressively loses its power to shock. It is worth noting

here the convergence betweenthis tendency in the contemporary British novel and what is happening in the theatre, where recent plays dealing

brutally with similar subjects in a similar mode have

warnings forthe spectators.3 When all is bared and no holds are barred, horroris so predictably horriblethatit becomes a pose ratherthana real-

ity, a cliche insteadof an authenticemotion - "Horrorism"in thewordsof a characterin Yellow Dog (Amis 150). When everything is made visible,

but unnecessarilyso, withoutdesire and without effect,torpor has a ten- dency to triumph insteadof excitement.As JeanBaudrillard explains, the

obscene is whatis made unnecessarily visible without giving rise to any desireor effect ( Cool MemoriesIV 59-60).4 The lives lived in these novels are in thrallto the contemporary tech- noverse, wherehuman beings are imprisoned within, as muchas liberated by, a mobile networkof cell phones, iPods, and laptops, the battery of

is the replay of memorable scenes from Quentin

contained health

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 115

technology whichis now part and parcel of everyday lifeand contrivesto

furnishour twenty-firstcentury bodies withan array of artificial limbs, al- lowing us to experiencenostalgically theoccasional twitchesand tremors of real feeling. The anxietypermeating thesenarrativesis a love-haterela- tionship with the contemporarytechnology-led world and the writer's

"The writerin an age of mass standard-

place withinit. As Self explains,

ization, corporatism,stereotypy, and the remorselesseradicationof any

meaningfulindividuality

life"

ers' perceptions of theircraftis challenged by the increasingly wide ac- cess to technology thatdominates society's accountof itself, in relationto whichfictionmust constantly and anxiously situateitselfas a rival narra- tive. The question seems to be, how does the novel, a traditionally low- tech form,requiringonlypen and paper, interactwiththisnew stateof af- fairs or state of the art? One of the answers lies in the relentless

Frenzy140). This is an example of the way in which writ-

represents the promise of an untrammeled

(Feeding

questioning of themediumin which any authorworthhis postmodern salt must indulge so as to make patent his awareness of the flawednatureof representation.Despite the obsessive invocationof "storytelling"by such writersas Wintersonand Rushdie, and thenumberof timesthattheword

"story"actuallyappears on the page, thefocus is moreon the telling as an event thanon the event per se, as the preposterousplots of these novels bear witness.The reader, on the other hand, mustbe satisfiedwith frag- mented "storyettes" ratherthanwithfull-blowntales. However, the excess of questioning, self-awareness, and self-con- sciousness which has penetrated these fictional organisms also endangers

their alreadyfragilecredibility, at least in the examples chosen here. Thus, one wondersat timesifan object such as The PowerBook is really a novel,

or even a book at all, or merely a literarygadget or gizmo:

ThePowerBookis

isn't really a novel anyway. It'smorelikea setofshortsto-

ries being marketedas a novel

a setof shortstories.It's morelike a bundleof bitsand

pieces, nicely laid out, signed,

home-splodged cardboardandsold as an artist'sbookat a

privategallery intheWestEnd.It's a half-finished, collec-

tors-only artifactwhichhas somehowstumbledintomass-

not methodologically new. Except thatit

Except thatitisn'teven

numberedand bound in

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marketcirculation.It's close, in fact, tonot being a bookat all. (Turner)

More than simple suspension of disbeliefis now required of thereaderof thiskindof text:we are being asked fora willingness to face head on the

rampanttechnophilia of novels which are straining to constructa new techno-poetics out of their (frequentlyexaggerated) claims of interactivity and technologicalknow-how, "digitally" enhanced by typefacegimmicks, jacket graphics, and iconic chapterheadings. These strategies boil down to morethanmere genre-bending and morethana mere questioning fromthe

inside of the novel as medium;they are attempts to integrate new media intoits very fabric. However, thetechnicaland technologicalpossibilities forthe novel are limited, which is precisely where language and form come intotheirown. The fascinatedhorrorwithothermodes of being and writing blend to- gether in the ever more recherche poetics of these novels, forone of the ways to win back a lost originality fromthe standardizationof thought is throughlinguistic and formal experimentation and daring, an excessive lit- eraryquality whichexhibitsin fullview theexacerbatedutilitarianismof the language of technology and fashionsoutof itan ornamentally demotic architectureto ensurerelieffrom homogenization. These authors plunder both the treasuretroveof great works and the resourcesof technology, fabricating a discursive space whereconstantinterferencedisturbsthein-

evitability of reproduction. The spectralsoup tinsare replacedby spam as

a postmodernpyrotechnical virus pollutes all

is a case of over-writing in orderto writeover.

systems of representation. It

In expressing themselves thus, these self-createdtechniciansof the

telling may have found a way of reclaiming

techne, thatis to say, of "art."The novels underexaminationhereare both

complicit withthe technologicalage and revoltingagainst it. By situating themselves on the cusp of this ambiguity,they make valid statements about our postmoderncondition, however much opprobrium theirexces- sive subject-matter and stylemay occasion. The baroque elaborationof

thebanal is a challenge forthe literary, butalso a way of putting into ques- tiona simplified vision of "society" as information superhighway stretch- ing into the classless, stateless,genderless distance.It acts as a powerful and obvious simulacrum aiming to compete withand outdo its technolog-

the

original meaning

of

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 117

ical counterpart, the networked storyworld environmentof the internet. For as these complex word games enable such writersto prove,precisely

by foregroundinglanguage and its power structures, the impression of lev- eling to be had through unlimitedaccess is mereillusion.5 The arcane eruditionof contemporaryvulgarity of Self and Amis, as well as the neo-romantic,neo-poetichyperbole of Wintersonand Rushdie, make themmembersof a techno-eliteof contemporaryword-engineers. The simultaneouslyreactionary and revolutionary tacticsof these writers are strategic attitudestowardsthecommodifiedconditionof aesthetics, es- pecially in a world in whichwe are no longer individualsbut consumers, or even objects of consumption ourselves. Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, NeverLet Me Go (2005), depicting thelives of humanclones raised solely

for their organs,provides a melancholymetaphor forthis condition, as does reality televisionoffera ludicrousillustrationof the same tendency. The impending but aborted disasterof our conditionis a featureof all these novels, a state thatSelf describes as a "profound sense of unease

about the non-appearance of the apocalypse" (Feeding Frenzy236). The reverberating echo of thelast trump which goes on trumping ad nauseam

pushes poetics beyond the pale, as novels seek to produce tirelessly, and withever more sophisticated variations, thehorrorof our conditionin full view in the hopes thata liberating catharsis may be effected.Faced with the contempt and indifferencethat familiarity breeds, thesewritersare en- gaged in an ongoing struggle to reaestheticizeour existence, albeit nega-

tively, in orderto challenge the symbolicpoverty caused by the spread of industrial technology to all spheres of humanconduct.

Mocking Mimesis: The Interactive Peepshow

"Perhaps thisis the style ofthenew millennium,

A

Coupled with post-post-industrial

pre-Enlightenment

senseof linguisticformality

virtual reality"

- Martin Crimp, The Misanthrope

All of thesewriters indulgeenergetically in the acrobaticsof stylistic and narrativesurrealismin orderbetterto mock mimesis.The realistaesthetic is displayed, only to be surpassed; it is fawned on and thenheld up to

ridicule as pastiche slips into parody. The main protagonists chosen by

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theseauthorsare all "mimetists," addictedto imitationand manipulatedby

ventriloquist narratorswhose original premise is the insincerity of the copy and the poetics of consumption. Such is whatvarious paratextual el- ements imply: the subtitleof Dorian, which reads "An Imitation," the

jacket of The PowerBook, designed to resemblea portableApple Power-

Mac computer, the tabloid chapter-titles of Yellow Dog, or the different

typefaces

frauds by the very narrationof their"stories"and fail to believe in them-

selves sufficiently to be able to give a convincingperformance of a stable identity fromthestart.Xan Meo of Yellow Dog plays at being the"Sensi- tiveNew Age Guy" untila bump to thehead revealshimas MCP extraor- dinaire, whilethe effete,mannered, and professorial Solanka in Fury turns out to be an intellectualand emotionalcharlatanwho findshimselfat first standing overhis sleepingspouse witha kitchen knife, then playing outin- cestuous fantasieswithhis nubile neighbor, and finallypeddlingphiloso- phy forthemasses in a cheap internet saga. As for Henry Wottonand Do- rian,they are such sublime caricaturesof campdom that theymay very well be, by theirown admission, mere fictionswithinfictionswithinfic- tion:"we're all inventionsofone sortor another" (276). The implication is thatthe manuscript has been written by Wottonand thatthe characters about which we have been reading have been merelyliving out his fan- tasies. Such layering and mise en abyme is typical of the "technological" sophistication of thesewriters.The PowerBook, on theother hand, is peo- pled by marvelous virtual creations,including the unreliable narrator, a

veritable technological transvestitewho refusesto distinguishreality from thefantasies circulating in cyberspace and fabricatesnew identitiesat will. As already suggested, all thisis par forthe course and can easily be

construedas part of the great

echoed in various pronouncementsby Winterson:"I am not interestedin realismforits own sake. The point of fictionis not to mirrorreal lifebut to set out from it, to alterour viewing angle and perhaps even the world we are viewing" (qtd. in Showalter). In other words, and witha nod to Oscar Wilde, itis the spectator, and not life, thatart reallymirrors, and the self-conscious poetics of these novels plunge the reader into a veritable

abyss of "specularity." Whetherit be formally or linguistically, or both, they are all narratives operatingagainst themselvesand thrustan aware- ness of artificiality on theiraudiences at thesame timeas they continueto

used in Fury. These hollow men and women are exposed as

anti-realist project of the

High Modernists,

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 119

embroilthose audiences in the preposterous "fiction"of theirchaotic and sprawling stories. They create and undermineat the same time, decon- structand reconstructin thesame breath. Each is characterized by multipleplot strandsand by difficultiesforthe

readerin distinguishingsubplot frommain story, a paradigm whichis rel- evant at all levels of these narrativeswhich insiston mixingup the mo- mentouswiththebanal. Endless punning and wordplay, technical trickery, frequentchanges of point of view, and the saturationof thetextwithim-

ages and metaphors of vision and sightoblige readersto ceaselessly con- template themselvesin the act of looking. The incessant pointing to the

framein which such writers indulge, deconstructing and foregrounding everything in advance, makes us only too aware thatwe are stationedon the otherside of a two-way mirrorfromwhence ironical glances can be exchanged withthe narrator.The mirrorheld up thusbecomes a mockery of mimesis and an excuse fora pantomime of verisimilitude, as we are

tauntedwith parodic suggestions of plot and storyline and presented in- stead withendless reflectionsof reading,writing, and interpretation.

Lured into a series of virtualworlds -

Baz Hallward's video installa-

tion, Cathode Narcissus (Self), Clint Smoker's e-mail correspondence (Amis), Solanka's websaga (Rushdie), The PowerBook's internetsurf- ing - readersare doomed to become the celebritiesof the textsthat they are reading, the complicit doubles of narratorswhose refusalor incapacity

to produce thetrueand thebeautiful obliges themto go shopping fortran- scendence in the debased mall of consumerculturevia the hypertextual

links providedby an excessively fragmenteddiegesis: "Click on thelinks formore PK infoor on the icons below foranswersto 101 FAQs, access to interactivities, and to see the wide range of PK merchandiseavailable forINSTANT shipping NOW. All major creditcards accepted" (Rushdie 168, emphasis original). Slaves to the ubiquitous screen, of the already-

seen, readers, like the protagonists, inhabitan uncannypresent where, in

thewordsof Baudrillard,

dividuals ape the watered-down performance of reality which is all they

have access to, fashioning themselvesinto the stars of theirown lives,

gods by proxy("Toward a Principle"358).6

much like Self and Wilde, thatthe

moderninternal"I" has takenthe place of the voices of the gods in our consciousness (Feeding Frenzy209). The hall of fame is in facta hall of

"themedia have put an end to real event"and in-

To some extentone

mightsuggest,

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INT

mirrorsand anypleasure or interestderivedcomes from watching oneself

in theact of watching, as thefrontiersbetweenoutsideand inside become increasingly blurred.The deliberateconfusionof "I" and "You" in The

PowerBook,

focalizationwhichall of thesenovels tendto adopt destabilize representa-

tiononce and forall. The willfullycorrupt aestheticat play here partakes of a fetishisticand shameless obsession withthe fragmentedmultiplicity of theselfas it goes through themotionsof desire:

of "I" and "he" in Yellow Dog, and the technique of multiple

"Let'sstart.Whatcolorhairdo you want?" "

"Red.I've always wantedredhair "So whatshallI wear?"

"It's

"How muchcanI spend onclothes?"

CombatorPrada?"

up

to

you.

"How about$1000?"

"My

"You'rethewriter."

"It's

"What happened totheomniscientauthor?"

"Goneinteractive."

"Look

"What's the problem? This is art not

wholewardrobeor just oneoutfit?"

yourstory."

I knowthiswas

myidea,

but

maybe we should quit." telephone sex."

(Winterson27)

As we catch a glimpse of the misshapen reflectionsof

texts' distorting mirrors produce for us, we break into

the grotesquereplicas whichhave replaced the aspiration to perfection of true art, now no more than a temporarycommodity of the imaginary, chained to the immoral principle of the spectacle: "The monitorsfizzed intolife.On thescreensthenakedDorians effervesced.Helen staredat the

glorious bodies. Baz Hallward's piece was

looked upon it to become involuntaryvoyeurs,Laughing Cavaliers, com- pelled to ogle the young manwith eyes pinionedopen" ( Dorian 42). Noth- ing existsin thesefictionalworldsifnotto be seen and seen again.

Although claims for interactivity can never signify morethana tricksy pose forthe novel, whichis by itsnature incapable of authenticinteractiv-

itydespite such experiments as B. S. Johnson'sThe Unfortunates(1969), the moral responsibility denied by the narratorsis shiftedonto the shoul-

humanity thatthe horrid laughter at

most cunning; itforcedall who

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 121

dersof the readers, who in the wordsof one criticof Yellow Dog, "cannot but see" and are obliged to confrontthemselvesin the act of confronting thehorror (Ganteau).7 Like spectators at an interactive peepshow,they are

no longermerely observersbut profoundly and morallyimplicatedby the veryperformance of watching in which they are engaged. Indeed watch- ing itselfbecomes the single most significant act of the twenty-first-cen- turypost-realitydeployed withsuch perverseglee. There is indeed somethingdisturbing about theinvolvementof readers in textswhere they are cast as bothvictimsand perpetratorsby proxy, re- sponsible fortextualantics: "What is it you want? Freedom fora night"

(Winterson3-4). The mixtureof Verfremdung(alienation) and intimacy

whichthesewriters practice, as well as theirconsummate ventriloquism

Self's cod Wilde, Rushdie's

gangsters and porn stars, Winterson's Malory,Shakespeare, and Oasis, all

products of linguisticsophistication

or textual hierarchy withwhichto judge events.Readers have trouble po- sitioning themselvesin relationto whatis shown, as emotionis lostbehind

a series of screensand layers, fortheexcess of prostheticsseparates them froma reality thatimitatesthe alienationwhich may resultfromthe cul-

tureof technology. As TerryEagleton explains,

-

of

tongue-in-cheekKafka,

-

Amis's

gallery

make itdifficultto establisha moral

Thereis anothersenseinwhichculturecan interpose itself betweenhumanbodies, knownas technology.Technology is an extensionofourbodieswhichcanblunttheir capacity

to feelforone another

farmoreflexibleand capacious, butin some ways much less responsive. It reorganizes oursensesforswiftnessand

multiplicity ratherthan depth,persistence or intensity.

(156)

Technology makesourbodies

Where culturehas become technology and technologyculture, the in-

tegrity of the body and the integrity of the textare compromised,leaving bothin pieces yetlonging to be whole.8 Readers who searchfor depth are invariablybrought back to the surface, fortheconsciousnessof mediation,

of an outside agency fragmentingperception, means thatthe only revela- tion to which they can have access is the hollow infinitudeof irony: the awarenessof theirrole as part of thecreed of self-reflexiveness.How then

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should we judge these authors:as passive chroniclersof decadence, vi-

cious satiristsor cynical pornographerscashing in on a post-permissive society fromwhichtaboos in artand lifehave disappeared? How can we

come to termswiththemixtureof

tionwhichis pushing such novels intoour faces and "out of theirheads"?

junk, gimmick, and literarysophistica-

An Excess of the Real:

The Novel "In-Yer-Face" and "Out of Its Head"

"Whenwe areoutofour body, we areoutofourmind" - TerryEagleton,AfterTheory

All of thesenovels are based on an aestheticof the extreme, bothin sub-

ject matterand in language. As well as attackingmodern-daymythsby subjecting them to overexposure - the Royal family and the Princess Diana cult ( Dorian , Yellow Dog), fatherly and motherly love ( Yellow Dog, Fury, The PowerBook), freedomof the press ( Yellow Dog), racial and sex-

ual equality( Yellow Dog, Fury, Dorian , The PowerBook) - theysubject to pitiless scrutiny the artof fictionitself.The shibbolethsof good writing are materialized and wheeled out on stage like the giant phalli in the comedies of Aristophanes. Once beforeour eyes, they are deconstructed

by ridiculeand lose the power of mysterythroughover-familiarity. There is nothing like rubbing shoulders with the forbiddenfor it to lose its totemic power. The hard and soft porn which operates on the level of theme, whatis shownand whatis leftto the imagination, is thusalso rele- vanton the metaphorical level of the writing itself.However tolerantthe

enlightened reader may be ofthe experimental in literature, itis difficultto accept the way in whichthesewritersdraw attentionto stylisticstrategies in orderto mock them.If Yellow Dog is drunkon the demotic, adopting tabloid parlance, East End underworld slang, a corny e-mail idiom, as well as inventing countless stylistic subtletiesforthe language of the porn in- dustry, Dorian raises the stakesof expression to a climax of aestheticex- cess where Huysmans meets Burroughs in an overdose of mind-altering poetics. Self piles metaphorupon metaphor and selects the rarestof ar-

chaisms to conjoin with contemporaryslang

performed to a recitationof Donne's "The Flea." This intercoursebetween

thelearnedand the vulgarmay be secretly admired by readers, butit may

as a collectiveheroin

orgy

is

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 123

also cause themto recoil in distaste, forthereis more thanan elementof

the unseemly to a technique which involves the indecent exposure of the truthand beauty of artas meretechnical wizardry, an ostentatious display of language skillsand poetic range in theserviceof special effects. As forThe PowerBook, it leaves no escape fromits hysterical and hy- brid"sur-romanticism"and its undignifieda-genericism,creating an indi-

gestible mixtureof the elaboratelymetaphysical and the cornily obvious as it militantly contests conventional fictional mores.9 Heroic moun-

taineers,explorers, and legendary

ous,

well

triangles;poetic flights of fancy modulateinto pornography and the mar- velous segues intoa crude parody of realism. Fury, an undignified techno

mix of Disney, science fiction, and Shakespeare, exhibitsa distinct pen-

chantforthe vampiric, forit feeds offa visibly weakened and disadvan-

taged reality in orderto strengthen the all-pervadingfictionality which is

imag-

inary internet saga

destinedto replace thehostculture by theend of thenovel. Thus an

lovers rub shoulderswiththe mysteri-

but somewhat repulsive, inhabitantsof a "Muck Midden" (137), as

as with contemporarybourgeois adulterers,caught in predictable love

becomes the disquieting mirror image of theanti-hero's

everyday life, which is already saturatedwith excessive referenceto a contemporary cultureof the hyperreal and unable to distinguish between

thetrueand thefalse.

The point of such techniques is the limitsof whatis acceptable in

the numberof expletives and explicit referencesto sex and violence, but by putting to the testand to the textthe shock value of a poetics which

revelsin radical and disturbingincongruity: theincessant juxtaposing and conjoining of different registers, worldsand levels, the surfeitand mixing of minority idioms (a resultof a consumer-basedculturewherewe are all

part of some focus group,yet disenfranchisedfromthe largerculture), and

the disrespectful intertextual sampling which compulsively exceeds its

own sources.

This hereticaland inflationarypoetics disturbsbecause of its failureto keep faithwitha single identifiablemode or style which mightground itin a recognizable fictional reality or convention.Neithercan such a poetics

be explainedby, or reduced to,anyparticularconceit,strand, school or in- fluence, forithas thatall-inclusive quality of theWorldWide Web, where everything is apparently on show and forthe taking, but at the same time

to takeformaland linguisticmastery to print, not merely on the literallevel of

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paradoxicallyungraspable. Thereare fewlimitsto thecrimeswhichitwill commit against literary decorumor the violation of codes in which it is

ready to indulge. These tendenciesare particularly noticeable when dia- logue intervenes. Episodes of direct speech, the functionof which is to provide a coded comment upon the conventionsof dialogue in fiction by

using a strategy of hyperrealisticimitation, have a disconcerting effecton thereader:

"Chickslikesalad." "What?" "Chickslikesalad.That'sa realdifferencebetweenthe sexes.Chickslikesalad." "You eatsalad." "YeahbutI don'tlikesalad.No manlikessalad.Chicks

likesalad.AndI can

prove it."

She waited."How?"

"Chickseat salad when they're stoned.A blokewould

wanthis chocolatebar or his

sugar bullshittomato.A chick'11eat salad in the

the fridge.Only a chickwoulddo that.That'show sick

chicksare. Christ, is "It'sthe fridge."

thatthe phone?"

sandwich.Not some

morning . From

"The

"It's new.Haven't you noticed?It makesa noiseif you

fridge?"

leavethedoor open. You leftthedoor open."

"Fuckoff!"he calledouttoit."I wonder.AmI thefirst

manonearthtotellhis fridge tofuckoff?" (Amis93)

If we are ready to accept a certaindose of poetic license, the fact, forex-

ample, that people do not reallyspeak like thisin real life (suspension of

disbelief), itis

ing like thisin a novel, unless itis indeed a very lame parody of the script

irrelevanceof

verisimilitude, Amis feels obliged

imitation, to rub the reader's

Every textis

yond conventionalfictionallimits. However,when, as is frequently the case, hardcoreeruditionmeetsthe

moredifficultto accept that they shouldnoteven be speak-

of an appallingly bad film.In orderto comment upon the

make a mockery of it by self-conscious

face in his novel's compulsive self-parody.

no longerjust a text, buta hypertextprojecting itsreaderbe-

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Aesthetics of Post-Realismand the ObscenificationofEverydayLife 125

soft porn of facileness, it is not merely the reflectionof the multiple and

mixed aestheticsof postmodernism,but, forthese authorsat least, a way of staking out new territory forthe novel, pushing out the boundariesof whatitis possible to say and represent in fiction.The stylistic shock value of such an aestheticexceeds thatof the actual events depicted, horribleas

theymaybe, for they are also excuses for increasinglybaroque variations on the same themes,equally significant as pretexts forelaborate experi- mentswithdemotic expression as fortheircontent-value.These novels

may indeed deal with incest,violence, pornography,deviancy, and so on, butall of thesecharacteristics apply equally to the poetics that they inflict on their readers,reflecting theanxietiesof a post-experimentalage where

incessant linguisticplay and bricolage are the tools required forthe ex- pression of contemporarytechnological reality. In such a climate these writers, itwould seem, feeltheneed to flextheir literary muscles and com- pete withthe WorldWide Web of stories by putting into play theirown

versionsof technological know-how.Of course,by trying to go one better, they committhemselvesto strategies of excess, as a very brief analysis of thecomic impulse in theirworkwill prove.

Although thereis nothingintrinsically comic about any of these nov- els, the poorjoke, the indigentpun, and bathos infectthemat every level. This is hardlysurprising,considering that theydepict a world in which tragedy is unrecognizable, a mere momentaryvirtuality, and where the truthof theactual is supplantedby the way thatitis perceived and reacted to, or re-enacted by its audience. Everything becomes mildly amusing,

whetherit be rape, exploitative relationships, sex between fatherand daughter, or violent death, for everything workson the principle of equiv- alence. The provocation is obvious, but compulsion also plays a part, as if, like word-junkies, theauthorscannotresista quick linguistic fix, a self-in- dulgentproof of the indigence intrinsicto the world withwhich they en- gage. However, it is not so muchthatthesewriterssufferfromtheinabil- ity to write well and tastefully, but from an addiction to hype and over-the-topness, the desire to crank up their writing a notch, the tempta- tion to use all of the toys as theyplay their dirtygame withthe novel. Thus Amis, Rushdie and Self committhemselvesto crass puns, tasteless

wordplay, and sick jokes,

the linguisticplayfulness of Wintersontakes us beyond the cringe in its kitschy corniness.Readers wince as they are shown what should remain

thelatter reveling in fin de siecle ribaldry, while

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hidden:themechanicsof language and story in whichthesewriters openly glory, the dirtylaundry of the intricaciesand intimaciesof theircraft

shamelessly airedin public. The mixing of categories and registers and the crashing obviousnessof the writingstrategies are more shockingfinally thantheevents portrayed, for theyprovide the crude special effectsof a vitiated poesy. Narrators

turn pornographers,destroying theirtexts' mystiqueby overexposure and overkill,imposing an excess of thereal (which is really a loss of the real) and vouchsafing unlimitedaccess to thatwhich should remainhidden.It

should be remembered that,according to

baroque over-signification"( Seduction 28).

guisticglut or smog,envelops all levels of the diegesis, making it impos- sible to see the story forthe language or,indeed, to recognizeany story at all, as if the novel were constructedaround special effectsand secondary

to these. The repetition of

handed, and theconceitsto whichtheauthorshave recourseare all exces- sively self-conscious.These textsdo not stop at the recycling of other texts, buthave no scruples in quoting themselvesas well since they are de- votedto making a spectacle of themselves.Both enchantedand disgusted by theirown simulationof the n