Sunday, January 07, 2007
American Superrealism by Jonathan Veitch
The whole title of this book is American Superrealism: Nathanael West and the Politics of Representation in the 1930s. This is the first of two books Michele got me for Christmas, and I love it. It triggered all kinds of ideas. Sure, it's a little academic for a gift, but I have no complaints. I did ask for it, after all.
A year and a half ago I was urged to read West, and he's quickly become an obsession for me. I've read his four major works, investigated the screenplays he wrote, and coveted more complete West collections so I can get into what made this guy tick. There aren't many authors who offer this level of study: a brilliant but limited body of work, enough critical and biographical interest to fill in some of the background, and connections with some of his era's better-known figures in a number of genres (William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, S. J. Perelman) that lead to a more personal understanding of the artist. Plus, since he isn't as well-known as comparable writers, like Flannery O'Connor or even Kurt Vonnegut, the insights I gain from studying him have the possibility of freshness. I like that.
Veitch's work is interesting in that it places West's work in two contexts: the socio-political and the artistic. He doesn't waste a lot of time on the "self-loathing Jew" thing, an approach that I think is overdone and not very helpful. Instead, Veitch concentrates on West's affinity for, and differences with, both the Communist Party and the European Surrealist art movement. It's a fascinating study that helps to explain West's subject matter (proto-Communist), and his treatment of it (derived from Surrealism). For his era, West is a one-of-a-kind American writer, which is obvious when reading him, but confirmed by this study.
Not too many people will be interested in all of this book, but I thought it was a fascinating read.