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Desperate Storytelling

"Desperate Storytelling" demonstrates how writers from Byron to Saul Bellow have embraced Cervantes's vision of the artist as creative exile, born to tell tales of valor and nobility yet doomed to recognize the world's banal reality. Forced to portray adventure in a reductive voice, these writers have immersed heroism in madness and narrative in mockery. Their fictions reflect an awareness of life's absurdities, yet a refusal to forsake the ideal.Reassessing the post-Romantic literary consciousness, Roger B. Salomon explores the many permutations of the mock-heroic mode, the complex aesthetic instrument brought into being by Cervantes, one by which a writer takes on a dual role as both nostalgic creator and ironic critic. The mock hero is almost by definition an outdated one, aligning his deepest emotional attachments to dead mythologies and forgotten codes of ethics; he is an alienated figure in a landscape hostile to the possibility of any kind of attainment. Just as Don Quixote's noble madness in an ignoble age invites both sympathy and derision, so later incarnations of the mock hero immerse the reader in a dialogue between the real and a faded ideal, between the sensible and the admirable.Describing a literary mode that joins heroic endeavor with its deflating results, "Desperate Storytelling" traces the adventures of literature's misplaced heroes from Nabokov's Berlin to Saul Bellow's Chicago, from James Joyce's Dublin to Mark Twain's Mississippi.
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About the Author

Roger B. Salomon is professor emeritus of English at Case Western Reserve University.

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