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More here from Jonathan Coe on BS Johnson. Coe makes the point that Johnson used the novel as a form, which might contain anything, including autobiography. The novel, in this view, doesn’t have to be fiction. In that sense, Johnson compares to the early heroes of the genre, who went to great lengths to present their writing as if it were a true account of real events, mostly from an autobiographical viewpoint. Defoe’s Moll Flanders is the most notable example.
Coe also places Johnson in the modernist tradition, rather than the postmodernist. It’s true that many writers routinely labelled postmodern look very much like classic modernists when you get down to cases. Johnson’s innovations, startling though they still seem, are nothing compared to Finnegans Wake or Flann O’Brien’s At-Swim-Two-Birds.
This modernist / postmodernist dilemma might be easily resolved if we all just decided that the modernist era hadn’t really finished, that modernist tendencies had just developed. Then postmodernism, in literature anyway, would disappear – which would be a very postmodern gesture…
Coe on Johnson by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.