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The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature$
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Zuzanna Ladyga

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474442923

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474442923.001.0001

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Exhaustion of Possibilities: Harold Rosenberg, John Barth and Susan Sontag

Exhaustion of Possibilities: Harold Rosenberg, John Barth and Susan Sontag

(p.189) Chapter 5 Exhaustion of Possibilities: Harold Rosenberg, John Barth and Susan Sontag
The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Zuzanna Ladyga

Edinburgh University Press

The chapter examines dominant postmodernist structures of feeling with respect to their internal contradiction. If its declared assent to the mode of exhaustion of aesthetic possibilities, articulated in its penchant for self-referentiality, intertextuality, and metafiction, gives an impression of a full-fledged embracement of doing nothing, this insight might actually be misleading. A careful look at postmodern manifestos – by Harold Rosenberg, John Barth and Susan Sontag – suggests that the appropriation of the limit-trope of doing nothing as postmodernism’s very own is in fact artificial. Rather than realizing the counter-normative potential of the trope of doing nothing, The chapter argues that the dominant postmodern rhetoric nullifies it by rephrasing productivity in terms of hyper-productivity and hyper-engagement. In Harold Rosenberg’s theory of Action Painting and John Barth’s notion of ultra-productive weariness with tradition, for example, modes of inactivity such as passivity or disinterest are revitalized as modes of heightened cognition. Thus, rather than inaugurating a “new” representational and ethical regime, postmodern manifestos are quite reactionary in that reiterate the ideologically troublesome Romantic notion of the artist’s active role in the process of artistic production.

Keywords:   Exhaustion, Unonconscious scanning, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Ronald Sukenick, William Gass, Susan Sontag, Harold Rosenberg, Anton Ehrenzweig

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