USA Read-a-Thon Kicks Off

Andrew Seal has made his first post on his summer read of John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy. He breaks down some of the key characters and discusses the book’s four narrative modes:

In the next post, I want to discuss in greater detail how the four modes of the novel work together, but for now I think it’s appropriate to say that I think to some extent their cumulative effect comes off a little strangely because there is not much in literature to which one might compare them collectively. This diversity of modes suggests a pastiche or bricolage, but this is not right; they don’t seem directly to be imitating, borrowing from, or subverting any specific literary precursor or any particular form of speech or writing. Even the Newsreel seems less like a direct transcript or a cut-and-paste job than a careful composition. And, though I said the Camera Eye sections remind me of Joyce, they don’t seem like attempts at writing like Joyce. And the multiplicity of experiments is quite different from simply having multiple forms of narration, or multiple narrators of differing linguistic capacities. Unfortunately, outside of pastiche or hybridity or Faulknerian multiple narrators, there are few ways that come to mind of really thinking about formal experimentation like this on multiple registers. This makes it difficult to figure out how to read these four modes—either individually or collectively.

I for one never found USA that experimental. The book is mostly anchored by what is a conventional narrative with more or less straightforward prose, and none of the three other narrative modes, though definitely there, ever mount much of a challenge to that main narrative. I suppose it’s a modernist work in the sense that it’s jamming a bunch of stuff together, and it includes a lot of quasi-documentary material, but I don’t think it’s particularly experimental modernism.

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