ABSTRACT

In Dissident Postmodernists (1991), Paul Maltby argues that recognition of a ‘dissident tendency’ is essential for understanding a subset of ‘post-modernist writers, [for whom] the problem of meaning has a contextual dimension insofar as they perceive language as bearing the imprints of the institutions, projects, and conflicts in which it is imbricated’. 1 Maltby’s explicitly politicised thesis—essentially, that much postmodern play with narrative form is a means of social/political resistance—as well as his terminology suggest an intentional connection between the American authors that he discusses, such as Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover and Thomas Pynchon, and Soviet-era Russian dissident satirists, such as Sergei Dovlatov, Alexander Zinoviev and Vladimir Voinovich. In the context of Russian literary criticism, the notion that fictional works could surreptitiously subvert Soviet authority is hardly new. Maltby’s identification of the ‘dissident’ strain in postmodernist American literature, however, is an attempt to answer a question that he claims is unanswerable using the established critical models:

Why should the fictionality of meaning become a major issue at a particular time, in a particular place (i.e., in late-capitalist America)? [ … ] No coherent model of postmodern culture underpins neo-formalist studies of postmodernist fiction. [ … ] An explanation of the postmodernist writer’s preoccupation with fictionality requires, inter alia, acknowledgement of his/her situation in a culture pervaded by illusory use-values and simulacra. 2