which novehsts throughout the world have carried on thenprocess of demythifying experience and eviscerating ournillusions, it seems also to be true that at some point thendialectical balance had radically shifted. For we now suffernfrom a surfeit of negation and an apparent failure ofnunderstanding of just what values have been negated, whatnwere the illusions we once mistook for truth, and what, ifnany, remain to be exposed. In a time when there is muchnevidence to indicate that fresh areas of social experience fornthe novel’s exploration have sharply diminished in number,nwe must also confront the fact that the great demythifyingnfunction of the novel seems to have come to an end in ancultural situation in which there seems to be little left tondemythify and which has actually been engaged for years inna self-destructive process of demythifying itself In almostnevery sector of human experience and endeavor—in politics,neducation, business, sexuality, marriage, the havingnand rearing of children—contemporary American societynis itself performing the job once performed by our novelists,nstripping away layers of idealistic assumption, hypocrisy,nillusions of purpose, meaning, integrity, principle, andnresponsibility and exposing the emptiness or the corruptionnor the insanity beneath.nThis has, of course, profoundly affected the nature of lifenin America at the present time, hence, inevitably, thennature of the contemporary novel and our response to it.nFor if we once found pleasure, instruction, even perhaps anform of Aristotelian purgation of the emotions of pity andnfear through seeing, in so many novels of the past, ournidealistic aspirations subjected to the test of actuality andnexposed as mistaken or illusory, we did so in part becausenaspiration in its conflict with actuality was endowed withnvirtue, even when affirmed in the face of hopeless odds.nThe urge for self-transcendence in the struggle to defendnsome abstract ideal of dignity, moral principle, or socialnresponsibility was revealed as a response to some deepnnecessity within the human spirit, a hubristic challenge tonthe power of the gods in which defeat was finally thenmeasure of the significance, even the tragic heroism, of thatnnecessity.nToday, in most of the novels that, for artistic reasons,nshould be able to make a serious claim upon our attention,nwe find reflected a complex of conditions and responses of anradically different order. To the extent that they contain anynrealistic portrait of the actualities of the present time, theyntend to dramatize not our hopes but our feelings ofngeneralized frustration and disappointment, not our neednfor transcendence but our paranoid fears that some obscurenforce, some metaphysical CIA, has robbed us of the meansnand the possibility and is bent on manipulating us inndirections and for reasons we cannot understand and thatnhave nothing to do with us personally. In fact, it is ancharacteristic feature of some of our most serious fictionnthat in it both the ideal and the reality of individualnself-discovery and transcendence as central thematic preoccupationsnhave been replaced by a dark fantasy in whichnprophecy and paranoia join to protect a horror of universalnconspiracy and mass apocalypse. At the center of thatnfantasy one discovers once again the classic modernistnrepresentation of the human condition: the dislocated selfnno longer sustained by the social structures and idealisticnA SCRAP OF MOONLIGHTnby Martin Seymour-SmithnWalked in the rain to post you a letter.nYou, who won’t see me, you are so sick and sad.nWanted at last to be simple, hadnNeed to speak straightforwardly at last.nSo I said aloud in the dusk-drizzle: ‘InLove you’ but dismissed it as prosy chatter.nAn exhibitionistic matter;nRegressed to the over-complex past.nIn which mind ruled heart, and Thou wert ruled by /,nFeelings always tainted by some half-lie.nGave up: the trash of governments.nFerocious fanatics fighting without sense,nThe mephitis of the incruciatednFribble turned to demonic scold;nAll the poor, tormented, excruciated,nAll the newly demented, love-robbed old. . . .nThat at least seemed reason to be bitter. . . .nNo excuse. Nothing of that in me not bad.nDrawn immer schlimmer from the indignatorynSewer—no more to it than love-lorn litternOr some man who says of Mercy: Tlan it!’nSat in the darkness here, knew this, uneasilynLamented the gap between false and true.nHow I, how we, could ever span it.nThen, as the Moon sailed out and into view.nSaw the uninfected fact of you.nYour renewal rinsed of my self-love:nCould hope at last, with no bitternessnFor love in everyone—and knew that meant me, too.nMartin Seymour-Smith, formerly poetry editor of Truth andnScotsman, has written several volumes of poetry, including AllnDevils Fading, Tea With Miss Stockport, and Reminiscences ofnNorma. He is also author of Robert Graves and Poets ThroughnTheir Letters.nassumptions of the past, trapped in a demythologized andntherefore demoralized present, dying a littie more each daynas the forces of entropy deepen and accelerate throughoutnthe world.nThis is not a vision capable of giving us very muchnfurther instruction. Its meaning has been canceled by thencliche it has become, and it has lost its former adversarynfunction: it is no longer a heretical corrective of the pietiesnbehind our illusions. But it is, nonetheless, a reflection,nhowever oblique and metaphorical, of a state of mind andncondition of life we recognize as common to the presentntime, even as we also recognize that one of the mostnfrustrating features of the present time is precisely that the ‘nvision of apocalypse, a relic of another age and so thoroughlyndevitalized by excessive literary use, should still havensuch pertinence to us. Yet there can be no question but thatnthe conditions of which that vision was initially the radicalnexpression have become more visible and seemingly morennnOCTOBER 1986/f3n