Sunday, March 02, 2008

Independence Day

Without even being a Slavist, the polymathic Jane Ellen Harrison coined a term which has stuck in the Russian Literature community. Following on the model of the imperfective aspect shared by all Russian verbs, which describes processes as they transpire, never as complete actions, Harrison bore down on the "imperfective tendency" of the Russian novel, in which nothing ever seems to happen, as opposed to the plot-driven modalities of Dickens, Balzac and their heirs.

When I started in on Richard Ford's Independence Day, Pulitzer-Prize winning and all, I initially fell in love. Here's a late-stage midlife crisis Princeton dweller (a superfluous man, to grab another term from the Russ Lit arsenal), a guy with keen eye for human character, the telling detail, and a penchant for theoretical and introspective ramblings, trying to make peace with where he's at.

But now, some 200 pages into the thing, this imperfective tendency is waying me down: our hero is very much at somewhere, and needs to move the fuck on with it. The fact that he knows it doesn't help much. However short the time frame, the reader demands something, some move forward. I myself can drive around New Jersey and Connecticut, stop at rest stops and motels, observe people. I don't need a novel for that.

1 comment:

George II said...

As Ford's recommender to the Grouse, I plotted for this post. All true, yet watch what you wish for... Independence Day is the middle of Ford's New Jersey trilogy. As I recall, not a lot happens in the first (The Sportswriter) either. But in the third (The Lay of the Land), a lot suddenly happens near the end, and it doesn't fit. I never thought I could enjoy excessive uneventfulness in any novel. But I do somehow enjoy the Jersey trilogy. The guy is just plain interesting enough to pull it off for me. Beyond that, I can't account for it.