June 18th, 2013
This weekend, the Los Angeles Review of Books ran a review by N. Katherine Hayles of Mark C. Taylor’s Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo. Hayles examines the way that Taylor chooses to “construct [his] own audience” rather than write for “other critics,” and after a thorough look at the insights that Taylor offers in linking literature and religion, claims that “even if Taylor would likely disagree, … [Rewiring the Real] is a provocative, engaging, significant, and resistant work of literary criticism.”
Hayle’s review begins by pointing out the differences between most works of literary criticism and Rewiring the Real, notably the fact that Taylor seems to be engaging with philosophers and theologians rather than critics:
The absence of references to literary scholarship in Taylor’s book is all the more striking because of his wide-ranging evocations of difficult works in religion and philosophy. The presumed reader has perhaps heard of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Bataille, Derrida, Kant, Fichte, and a host of others in these traditions, but may not know their philosophies in depth. Rewiring the Real dares to imagine the creature whose existence seems increasingly imperiled by web surfing, video games, and distracted attention: the general educated book reader. Significantly, Taylor does more than ignore literary criticism; he actively resists it, choosing to locate the payoff for his readings as contributions to a field that does not yet exist — literature and religion, or better still literature as secular theology — but that he strives to bring into being. As if following the mantra, “if you build it, they will come,” he aims to convince his readers not only to believe in, but also to imagine themselves inhabiting, this hypothetical field.
In addressing this general reader, Rewiring the Real modifies the kind of argumentation in which literary criticism typically engages. Devoting one chapter to each of the four authors whose names populate the subtitle, Rewiring the Real may appear on first reading to lack an overall thesis. Each chapter stands more or less alone as an in-depth reading of a literary text, with few explicit connections between chapters. Many books are constructed using this model, gathering into one volume essays previously published separately. Rewiring the Real, however, follows a more creative and devious strategy. The thematic connections are there, but they are not framed as explicit arguments. Rather, they work through subtle repetitions of tropes that gain resonance as they reappear in new contexts: the counterfeit, the uncanny, the virtual, the cave, and most importantly, the void, the nihilation, the nothing (no-thing). These repetitions function more like poetry than explication, gesturing toward something that cannot be named or grasped directly. The role of this elusive something, it turns out, is the book’s major thesis.