ABOUT THIS BOOK
A writer who simply panders to the public is seldom taken for an artist. An artist who cannot publish is seldom granted a career. This dilemma, the subject of Muse in the Machine, has been home to many authors of serious fiction since the eighteenth century. But it is especially pointed for American writers, since the United States never fostered a sustainable elite culture readership. Its writers have always been reliant on mass publicity’s machinery to survive; and when they depict that machinery, they also depict that reliance and the desire to transcend its banal formulas. This book looks at artist tales from Henry James to Don DeLillo’s Mao II, but also engages more indirect expressions of this tension between Romantic individualism and commercial requirements in Nathanael West, Vladimir Nabokov, and Thomas Pynchon. It covers the twentieth century, but its focus is not another rehearsal of “media theory” or word versus image. Rather, it aims to show how various novels “about” publicity culture also enact their authors’ own dramas: how they both need and try to critique the “machine.” In subject as well as approach, this study questions the current impasse between those who say that the aesthetic aspires to its own pure realm, and those who insist that it partakes of everyday practicality. Both sides are right; this book examines the consequences of that reality.