The Creative Genius of Tom Robbins

The Creative Genius of Tom Robbins
If Samuel Johnson were alive today he would most certainly marvel at the longevity of his unlikely literary creation-the novel. Of course, Johnson might have also been equally impressed by the creative genius of Tom Robbins who put pen to paper and transformed verbs, nouns, and adjectives into an appealing tale of religiosity, world affairs and art while steadfastly conforming to Johnson's credo that "the books we read with pleasure are light compositions which contain a quick succession of events." In an age in which the novel and other creative variations of literary expression are constantly competing with new and emerging forms of electronic media, the success of the novel goes almost unheralded. As such, Robbins's work represents not only a commitment to his craft, but perhaps more importantly, it signals new trends in literature.
Thomas Robbins is the kind of novelist one either loves or hates. His stylistic approach involves the utilization of an overabundance of similes and metaphors, liberal use of humor, and lacks an obvious plot: elements that place his work in a class of its own. For example, in his recent work Skinny Legs and All (1990), Robbins characteristically employs humor to detract from an organized structure as he constructs a tale of religion, art, illusions and the meaning of life. Additionally, by breathing life into a set of inanimate objects, he links paganism and the supernatural in a story that revolves around the complex relationship of the lead characters, all the while concealing his didactic intent. Hence, the absence of an obvious plot in the story is not by chance, but a unique technique that Robbins uses to give causal warning of the radical intent of his work, which is, as he puts it: to create an experience peculiar to reading alone, an experience that could not be duplicated in any other medium; it means devaluing plot to a certain extent; I have also wanted to avoid the escapism that frequently results from a mimetic approach. What I've wanted to do was to break into the narrative and say, look, this is a book -- you're just reading a book. (MaCaffery and Gregory, 1982, 230).

Several streams of literary criticisms have attempted to analyze Robbins's work. Tom Clark, for example, wrote that "Robbins once again proves himself to be an extremely clever writer, but unfortunately also one whose uncertainties of tone and stylistic overreaching affect nearly every page" (9). Another critic Joe Quennan noted, "Sad to say, Mr. Robbins is not yet ready for the big league; he has shown that he can hit a fast ball, but he still has plenty of trouble with the curve" (12). Finally, Sally Eckhoff claimed "Robbins favorite literary device the agile simile/metaphor becomes tiresome... There is too much going on and not enough belief in the characters" (6). All these analyses of Robbins's work echo "pre-modern" or traditional literary evaluations of style, plot etc., but they have not accounted for the "postmodern" (and I use this word literally) dimension of his work. Though all of the authors lay claim to some literary license, each stream reflects one pattern--confusion. In particular, none of the critics have addressed the seminal aspect of Robbins's work, that is, it represents a paradigmatic shift in the way textual works are articulated. Thus, Robbins's novel is more than just an American original; it is definitely "avant-garde." Is his style original? Perhaps. However, this claim to "originality" must be interpreted as his attempt to adjust to changing modes of literary communication. Is this dilemma new? Of course not. During the late 19th century, the visual arts was confronted with a similar dilemma with the advent of the camera. With its ability to precisely replicate minute details, painters had to resort to new and imaginative ways to try and capture reality. Hence, impressionism (Monet), cubism (Picasso), surrealism (Dali), pop art (Warhol and Pollock) were born. During this transition, all the aforementioned abstract artists went through the transitory period of criticism and confusion when, like Robbins, similar criteria were used to evaluate their talents and creativity. So too, Robbins is making a claim--be it postmodernism, minimalism or impressionism--that literary work must revolutionize and depart from the precise, exact replication of the social world if it is to outlive the onslaught from these new forms of information technology.

There are definite signs of a mutation present in Robbins's work and maybe this is his response to the threat of oblivion by the electronic media. Is this paradigm shift unexpected? Not really. Historical circumstances and movement in the arts are always reflected in writing styles, so it was only a matter of time before the shift in literary arts caught up with its visual counterpart.

In this regard, Skinny Legs and All is more than a philosophical satire, it is the sign of things to come - abstract literary art. Literature in a form that must be read and is almost impossible to express in any other medium but the written form. A form that will survive the information age and computer/multimedia interaction and like its abstract art counterpart, live to take its place in society. So, perhaps the moral of the story Skinny Legs and All is not so much that "we get Astarte back into our lives, give organized religion the boot and quit suppressing our erotic potential (Eckhoff, 6), but the fact that there is hope that the written word, as epitomized in the form of a novel still has a place in a world where creative forms of literary expression are more and more being subsumed by new and emerging forms of communication media.

The Creative Genius of Tom Robbins 8.8 of 10 on the basis of 2823 Review.