Authentic synthetics : Three novels by Graham Swift
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
1996 Booker-McConnell prize winner Graham Swift represents the top end of a new breed of current British writers who are distinguished by their tendency to bring together the antithetical poles of traditional realism and postmodernism, both stylistically and thematically. The reasons for Swift's dual allegiance to realism and postmodernism, and the implications of this conglomeration are my main concern. Swift addresses the origins and effects of an age in which images are replacing reality and leaving -a void at the centre of our existence. He acknowledges that absence has become the substance of our age, and suggests that our only reprieve is in illusions. Creating illusions in the form of literature, history, photography, romance, or myth for example, is a survival reflex stemming from the human inability to accept meaninglessness and randomness. Swift invests faith in the restorative and cyclical rhythms of nature, rejecting postmodern apocalyptic ideas about the end of literature and invoking the imperative of balance between reality and illusion. The three novels I have chosen are central to this argument: Waterland considers the relationship between fact and fiction in history and reality, Out of this World explores the influence of images on our perception of reality, while Ever After thematizes story-telling as a remedy for loss of faith and identity. Swift transgresses the border between realism and postmodernism in Waterland, Out of this World and Ever After partly to contradict the apocalyptic postmodern theorists who prophesy the end of history and the end of art; and, more importantly to reflect the paradoxes of our postmodern present. His tactic of utilizing realist mimetic principles while simultaneously deconstructing and subverting these very principles, imitates the peculiarly postmodern urge to invest faith in illusions. Swift is asserting both the impossibility and necessity of fiction in an age where constructed representations of reality are perceived as truth, and actual reality has become fiction.