By Benjamin Widiss
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Extra info for Obscure invitations : the persistence of the author in twentieth-century American literature
He does not look in. . Eula watches him as he goes on and passes from sight. . When she finds [Cora] watching her, her eyes go blank” (8–9). ” As one starts to pay close attention, the notion of seeing or hearing the saw becomes increasingly odd. Before long, it will become wholly significant in its own right. Five pages later, Jewel ups the rhythm and the ante: “It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where she’s got to see him.
But I want to divorce the pedagogical impulse from the institutional housing, to suggest that even novels like Faulkner’s function in a fashion akin to far more approachable work like Loos’s, that both teach us how to read in and on their own particular terms, and that those terms entail precisely this variance of affection and identification. McGurl’s elaboration of the ways in which we are assimilated at some times to character viewpoints and at others to authorial ones accords with what I am calling, respectively, mimetic and aesthetic investments.
More conducive to my readings is McGurl’s conception of significantly more fluid dynamics of distancing and melding between readers, characters, and authors. McGurl proposes that the novel’s ambiguous cultural status in the late nineteenth century yields an attempt “to reinvent itself as fi ne art” (5), and he introduces this attempt as one of differentiation, manifested through the presence of and fascination with, in each of the novels he reads, a “dialectical foil”—the “naïve, stupid, low, primitive, childish, [or] uneducated” (9).