Richard Kostelanetz
Notes on Spacial Form
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Here and elsewhere, modernist fiction prepares its readers to make those perceptual readjustments necessary to comprehend subsequent new fiction. In reading such works (unlike detective stories), what is principally remembered is not narrative sequence but a sense, first, of thematic interests and, then, images of both characters and the atmosphere in which they move, in addition to prose style and overall structures--qualities that the attentive reader comprehends bit by bit. It is those qualities, rather than anything dependent upon sequential narrative, that the modernist novel tries especially to communicate; so that »spatial form« becomes a means entwined in an epistemological end.

It was Guy Davenport, a very literate writer, who observed of Stan Brakhage, a very literary filmmaker, that the latter's Anticipation of the Night (1958) contains »a succession of images that do not tell a story but define a state of mind.«

The publishers of Erich Auerbach's classic book on literary representation, Mimesis (1946), should invite an avant-garde critic to write a successor to Auerbach's concluding chapter on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927). (My choice would be stories in Gertrude Stein's Geography and Plays, which was incidentally published five years before Woolf's book, just as Stein was born eight years before Woolf.)


In the direct experience of fiction, continuity is the center of our attention; our later memory, what I call the possession of it, tends to become discontinuous. Our attention shifts from the sequence of incidents to another focus: a sense of what the work of fiction was all about. - Northrop Frye, »Myth, Fiction, and Displacement« (1961)

A story is no longer a story when words are reduced to bare necessities. Time is cancelled out in the process of exploring it, when the quest for a perfect recurrence, a coming and going in time, is achieved by means of pure prose, of writing reduced to its essence. - Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World (1968)

In any age how to read and how to write are complementary terms, and the reading of the Pound Era, like the writing, discerns patterns of fiction and gathers meaning from nonconsecutive arrays. We can tell one page of Ulysses from another at a glance; to our grandfathers they would have seemed as featureless as pages from a telephone directory. - Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (1971)


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