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Author's Aspirations Misread

June 21, 1987

A writer rarely, if ever, gets an ideal reviewer; in the present case, the review is at such odds with the intentions of the fiction and with everything I have ever aspired to be as a writer, teacher, and human being that perhaps I am justified in defining what an ideal reviewer of "Kayo: The Authentic and Annotated Autobiographical Novel From Outer Space " (The Book Review, May 17) might be like.

He or she would be familiar both with "Don Quixote" and my previous work (certainly "Court of Memory," "The Tree House Confessions," and my more recent "To a Distant Land," in which many of the concerns of "Kayo" are present) and possess at least some familiarity not only with contemporary philosophical and literary theory, particularly with deconstruction, but with the social causes--the human history--that seemingly makes it inevitable.

"Don Quixote," the first modern novel, is obviously an artifice--ostensibly, it is the work of a scribe whose manuscript has been "found" by Cervantes, and it recounts the absurd adventures (the "true history") of a "knight-errant" addled by the romances he has read. As such, it is an early example of the involuted, hermetically sealed work that has been so fashionable in our day, the form that serves as a metaphor for deconstructionists and other post-structuralists for all our attempts at communication--indeed, for the human condition itself, which they perceive as caught within the cultural text, all the responses to our spiritual or sacred questings being simply the reflections or echoes that bounce back to us from that cultural vault.

"Kayo" is a parody of that fashionable and hermetically sealed form; like Cervantes, I found its use liberating, and a great deal of fun, enabling me (like him) to construct preposterous adventures and characters who in the imagination at least of the maker come alive within the sealed context, their words and actions ultimately implying values and meanings that lie beyond the seal itself. In my case, the great pleasure in writing the fiction was to use the very form approved by the most modern theoreticians in order to subvert it--that is, to communicate a sense of the universe of stars beyond the cultural seal, the cosmic unity unavailable to poor human rationality and logic but known perhaps from the beginning of human existence to whatever it is we call the soul.

Like the characters in my book, I truly believe that modern enchanters, both in politics and philosophy, can entrap us--but only if we continue to permit or encourage them to do so. The changes in (awful term!) our "life styles" that delude us these days with a promise of personal freedom are to my mind wholly a consequence of our inability or refusal to change anything else. Perhaps the criticism of our political and intellectual entrapment is so radical in "Kayo" that reviewers like John Clute believe that I, like so many others, am only playing games, academic or otherwise. Even his brief summary of the plot, inaccurate though it is, ought to suggest otherwise.

The ideal reviewer of "Kayo" would probably observe that, as I age, I get increasingly passionate, and must disguise or disarm (or give useful direction to) my emotions through laughter or other means. Whether or not this is good for my art, which has always been in the service of life, I cannot as yet say.

JAMES McCONKEY

Trumansburg, N.Y.

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