Oates has written two book reviews for The Nation, in 1966 and 1969, and several poems, including “Preventing the Death of the Brain” (1974), “Footprints” and “That” (1977), “Things Run Down,” (1980), “Snapshot Album,” (1983), and “Strait of Magellan” (1988). The following essay on Oates by Constance Ayers Denne was published in The Nation of December 7, 1974.
Joyce Carol Oates’s special achievement is her ability to reduce contemporary American social reality to liberating fictions. Her resources are courage and a knowledge of self and the literary past. Open and receptive to what is, Oates sees the present as a variation of what has already been, and by reducing “now” to familiar fictions, she tames, civilizes and, through the catharsis provided by her art, educates. Oates believes strongly in the authority of the individual’s experience of reality. Not one to confuse behavior, or what one does, with identity, or who one is, she defines experience as a process in which external reality impinges significantly not only upon the conscious life of the individual but upon the unconscious as well. Life is a series of encounters, each of which has the potential to make the unconscious more accessible. The truly human life requires continual growth, which in turn depends upon the individual’s ability to integrate a new experience into the total personality. (More often than not, however, in an effort to maintain equilibrium, one simply denies or resists the healthful disintegrating effects of new experiences, and such reactions lead either to stagnation or to “madness.”) Each state of integrity, albeit temporary, reveals more, but one can never fully understand the self, for the learning process is unending.
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