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William Burroughs Case

Autor:   •  April 22, 2014  •  Research Paper  •  2,303 Words (10 Pages)  •  733 Views

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The conventions of "the traditional novel" are almost completely disregarded in twentieth century avant-garde fiction. According to Hutcheon, a healthy piece of postmodern fiction ‘paradoxically uses and abuses the conventions of both realism and modernism, and does so in order to challenge their transparency' (1988, p. 53). Despite this, what effectively happens with avant-garde literature is that each text becomes modelled on a previous avant-garde piece. Therefore, avant-garde itself becomes a genre of tradition and characteristics that the reader comes to expect. Kostelanetz's concurs with this idea when he states ‘Because avant-gardes are customarily regarded as succeeding each other, they are equated with the world of fashion, in which styles also succeed each other' (1982, p. 5). The idea raised here is that like fashion, avant-garde literature adapts and changes yet still remains conscious of what was produced before it. Therefore, when considering avant-garde, many immediately point towards an ‘experimental' type of literature. ‘Experimental' and avant-garde are, however, two separate genres, as experimental means trying something new. Avant-garde has become a ‘tradition' in itself, thus suggesting that the challenge presented many of the later dated texts on this unit is apparent yet diluted. Avant-garde has seemingly weakened its challenging nature as decades go on, though an element of challenge still remains. What must be considered is what is "the novel" and have some pieces of contemporary avant-garde pieces become part of it. In essence, avant-garde as a genre definitely challenges the concept of "the novel" yet some texts within the genre are heavily influenced by previous ones, thus making them less experimental and/or challenging.

In order to be able to assess the extent at which "the novel" is challenged, a definition of "the novel" must be obtained. ‘All such extra-literary categories are erected as so many courts of justice before which the novel is summoned' (McKeon, 2000, p. 4) suggests that "the novel" has a set of rules and regulations that it must follow- something which the avant-garde texts that have been studied disregard. McKeon is suggesting that a typical novel narrative presents a storyline in prose form that we have come to expect as readers. This idea is absolutely challenged by avant-garde literature; as accepted form, syntax, content and narrative is completely changed from the ‘norm'. This essay will look in depth at William Burroughs' The Soft Machine (1961) and Kathy Acker's Great Expectations. The two are excellent accompaniments to one another as Acker herself has admitted to being heavily influence by the earlier work of Burroughs. Each of these texts derive from a similar avant-garde fiction style, yet Acker's text is an extraordinary adaptation of Charles


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