the art? Where is the metaphysics?nThese characters, and presumablyntheir authors as well, are more interestednin man’s cash assets than innhis bargaining with eternity.nShe adds for die sake of contrast, “TonBeckett characters, Borges characters,nNabokov characters, society does not exist,”nand, “the jolly picaros, andnCalvino’sCosimo … and the various axolods,ndinosaurs, cows, etc., which I havenmentioned [as examples of modern characters],nhave on their minds other thingsnthan marrying money.” The only thingsnthat unify this snippet of criticism are (1)nMs. Dillard’s opposition to, presumably,nbourgeois society, what she perceives asnthe infatuation of several 19th-centurynnovelists, and (2) curious readings ofnStendhal, Dickens, James, Beckett, andnNabokov. To ask for the location of art innStendhal’s novels is like asking for thenlocation of the ceiling in the SistinenChapel. Dickens was certainly consciousnof the poorhouse, but it’s more accuratento say that his concern was with what henconsidered justice rather than solventnmarriages. James’s novels pay more thannpassing attention to epistemology. Thenthree 19th-century novelists were concernednwith moving their charactersnthrough England and France, Americanand Italy. Still, the psychology of characternis more important than the state ofnsociety, though that psychology is, as thennovelists noted, affected by society. Theynare not total solipsists, but which charactersnin fiction are? Of the characters ofnBeckett, Borges, and Nabokov, the onlynone that immediately comes to mind fornwhom society plays, seemingly, a smallnrole is Beckett’s the Unnamable, yet evennit is not totally self-referential, as itndescribes itself with regard to Molloy,nMoran, Murphy, etc. Ms. Dillard’s observationn”You do not read Nabokov as andocument of the times” brings intondoubt certain elementary reading skills:n£Lolita isn’t a document of America innthe 1950’s, what is it, a carefully craftednsoft-core porno novel?nOther 19th-century novelists—Zola,nin particular—and their heirs in the 20thnalso receive blows, though ambivalentnones, from Ms. Dillard. She says, “Ifnsomeone out there is writing a purelynnaturalist fiction, using only nineteenthncentury techniques, he is not so much anchicken with his head cut off as a deadnhorse.” The techniques she proposes asnrequired are those “developed sixty yearsnago” but which, curiously, “have beennaround for centuries, even, if you want tongo back to Sterne.” (While this couldnsimply be a semantic problem, the entirenstructure of her work here is so unsteadynthat that possibility is slight.) As Ms.nDillard doesn’t want to be offensive, andnas her ex-thoroughbred metaphor is anstrong one, she finds herself in a bit of anmess, recognizing that Saul Bellow, fornexample, doesn’t produce Joyceanntomes. Her solution is to pretend that shendidn’t say what she did by concluding,n”There are abundant differences betweennnaturalist fiction and contemporarynmodernist fiction. But there arensimply too many writers and works of fictionnwhich do excellent things in bothncategories for any one to talk aboutnrevolution or even opposing schools.”nAll of this happens within three pages.nDid anyone say anything about deadnhorses?nMs. Dillard plays fast and loose, andnthe result is incoherence. At one pointnshe maintains that there is a distinct dif­nMaternal Devotion in the Abstractnhi a n-CLiii iniiTview ihi- lowlirow.’nI;i()iiic mavcn on ••oiial di’veliipmi’ni.>.,nPhil Duniiluir. in-.iili- tin’s ri-volinioiiiuvnnh-crvaiion:nI ihiiik-wc ijri ;ili(.T MKiii if we i.;inncnlifihun [uiiniv ri-i;;iriliii4; rln- cmiiniiiij-lynimpiiriani mlr ilu t:) inn(Mily Jiil(llii>ii>l.n.Ai ilii-i poinl hi< fl-rnaie inii-rvicwcr, .Ms.nGiuria .Sieincm. a HDKII sirmiuralisl.nference between writing and paintingn(“Since words necessarily refer to thenworld, as paint does not . . .”) then, atnanother point, she describes the writer asnpainter: “He manipulates words like sonmany dabs of paint.” Readers are said ton”believe in the fiction writer as Paul Bunyan”—strong,nbigger than life—but shenstates earlier, “People still regardnnovelists as helpless, fascinating neurotics.n” Curious. All kinds of things happennto Sam Beckett in Ms. Dillard’s handling.nShe lists him in one place (asnshown before) with the contemporarynmodernists, which she opposes with then”historical Modernists,” such as Kafka,nJoyce, and Faulkner, whom she rightlynnotes are dead. Later in the book shengenerates another list, one of the Modernists,nand not only does she add thenname of the previously condemnednHenry James, but she prematurely placesnBeckett amongst the shades. Beckett, shensays, is among the writers of ” elaborated,npainterly prose” (the tempera slips innagain); a few pages later he is used as annexample of a writer who produces “plainnwriting”: “It is sparing in its use of adjectivesnand adverbs; it avoids relativenclauses and fancy punctuation; it forswearsnexotic lexicons and attentiongettingnverbs; it eschews splendid metaphorsnand cultured allusions.” It is everythingnpainterly prose isn’t. AlthoughnLIBERAL CULTURE~|nnnlauilingly ropondeil:nWell, vduvc niiiiii- :i Vv difference tonwnnnri. liki- [in. win) wire on the othernsrilf I’t llic irk-M^iun *;L’I .nMs. SiL-int-m acquired visiljOity as a vehenietunadvotale Drcareers us more fulfillinj;nfur womi-ii ihaii inoiherhood and asnan inticlarijiablf ihampion of tax-suppont-iinday-care i.ciuer’; a> a substitute fornpari-nial aircntion. ^’i-Il, as Emersonnsaid. (.iinsisienc y /i die hobgoblin of littlenminds. •niiii^^ 9nJanuary 1083n