But he’s certainly an incredible talent. I first encountered Hawkes’ writing via the criticism of William H. Gass (in A Temple of Texts), who is a big fan. Now I’m about halfway through my first Hawkes book, Second Skin, and I can’t imagine it will be my last.
There are two things that are principally of interest right now. The first is Hawkes’ storytelling method. It’s a very fragmented narrative, although it doesn’t go so far as something like the French New Novel. I suppose a good reference would be the so-called novel-in-stories, except if you could imagine a novel-in-stories where it was difficult to determine the import of any particular story vis a vis the work as a whole (or even vis a vis that particular story itself). All of the action is framed by a first chapter that takes place in the ostensible present, so I suppose you could chalk up the book’s ostensible disorganization to the working of memory, although that seems too easy for a book as complex and fundamentally interesting as this one.
The second thing is the narrative tone, which is quite unlike anything Ive ever read before. It’s a very detached tone–whimsical, I would say–although there’s an inherent desperation and sadness to the things being narrated that’s completely at odds with the way the voice wants to sound. Perhaps it is the tone of a man desperately trying to deceive himself; or perhaps the narrator is just depressed. Regardless, the prose is simply beautiful; Hawkes was clearly a remarkably inventive user of words.
I still don’t know why all of this makes Hawkes postmodern, although virtually everything I read about him references him as a “postmodern” author. There’s none of the stuff typically associated with postmodernism (e.g. metafiction; cutesiness; cardboard characters). If anyone out there can provide a compelling explanation, I’ll be obliged.