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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos


Book Review
Manhattan Transfer
by John Dos Passos
p.  1925
Houghton Mifflin Company Boston
Sentry Edition p. 1953


   I read Manhattan Transfer out of turn because I was actually interested in reading a book by Lost Generation author cum Right Wing Republican Conservative, John Dos Passos.    DURING the Lost Generation period, Dos Passos was a big deal.  A "Great American Novelist" who incorporated modernist prose literary techniques gleaned from James Joyce, and one who did things like fight in the Spanish Civil War and incorporate Socialist rhetoric into his fiction.  By the end of his life he was, "actively campaign[ing] for Barry Goldwater and Richard M. Nixon, and became associated with the Young Americans For Freedom Group." (JOHN DOS PASSOS WIKIPEDIA ENTRY)

  HEY- you want to know what taints a literary legacy?  Campaigning for Barry Goldwater and Richard M. Nixon.   I suppose though, that the work should stand independent of the man and his shift away from supporting Socialism. 

  As far as incorporating Joycean derived experimental prose techniques into a "Novel"- I'm not a huge fan. I have no doubt that I'm going to have to come to terms with "stream-of-consciousness" narratives, and Authors who jump back and forth across time and space without telling the reader what's happening, but I felt like I've already absorbed those techniques, if not through literature, through the work of film makers of Jean Luc Godard.  OH- AND PS- I HATE JEAN LUC GODARD and all of his movies except Breathless, Alphaville and Week End- which I kind of hate but respect. 

  On the posi side of the ledger- John Dos Passos writes the (non-narrated) dialogue with the aplomb of a modern sitcom writer.  I was reminded of the later work of William Burroughs and the other beat writers.  John Dos Passos, patrician he may be, was concerned in his work with what the 60s would call "the plight of the underclass" and his fiction reflects that concern.

  I found "the experimental writing techniques and narrative collages" distracting, but a book that randomly cuts between non-intertwined narratives is going to be distracting even without experimental writing techniques and narrative collages."  Here's an example of what these experimental writing techniques consist of:  He runs two word phrases together as one word. BREATHTAKING. 

  My sense though is that the Lost Generation itself is ripe for re-appropriation.  I think there is already a movie remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal Lost Generation text, The Great Gatsby, and that could well spur a Lost Generation revival.  Maybe throw John Dos Passos a bone when that comes around.

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