Safer or Sorrier?

Author: Brooke K. Horvath (Kent State University)

  • Safer or Sorrier?


    Safer or Sorrier?



Elaine B. Safer's The Contemporary American Comic Epic considers six novels by four authors: Earth's The Sot-weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy, Pynchon's V. and Gravity's Rainbow, Gaddis's The Recognitions, and Kesey's: Jometimes a Great Notion. Safer's purpose is to understand in what ways and toward what ends these novels are both comic and epic. This would seem to be a harmless enough undertaking, although some readers may find themselves exasperated by the author's unselfconscious return to a simpler critical world undisturbed by the implications of structuralist and poststructuralist thought, a world in which the critic's primary business is charting allusions, making genre distinctions, and offering propaedeutic thematic analyses. Safer may nod in passing to the work of, say, Umberto Eco or (in a note) Hayden White, and she may speak of intertextuality or label her subjects "postmodern" (which she does without further comment, as though the term were self-explanatory and unproblematic), but for her Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, and Kesey remain essentially what they once were judged to be: existentialists, black humorists, absurdist fabulators. Consequently, the appropriate approach to Barth et ale is still yesterday's, with each novelist seen as exploiting black humor and ironic allusiveness (that is, allusiveness which "mocks the present and is often ambivalent about the past" [21]) in the service of an absurdist vision that incorporates the techniques of traditional comic prose epics and makes parodic use of the conventions and intentions of the traditional epic to yield existential satire.

How to Cite:

Horvath, B. K., (1988) “Safer or Sorrier?”, Pynchon Notes , 137-143. doi:

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Published on
22 Sep 1988