To quote Barthes in the above context is to suggest that the long shadow of deconstruction hangs over Small World. Although Lodge claimed in an interview not "to come down on either side" (Billington 7) in his dramatization of the debate between traditionally humanist modes of literary scholarship and newer, more radical approaches, his novel in important respects seems to have been deliberately tailored to a deconstructionist aesthetic. He is scrupulously fair in giving equal time to the spokesmen for the various critical schools; but in its fragmentation and denial of teleology, in its refusal to cohere around a unifying kernel of meaning, or even to stabilize the action by restricting it to one or two campuses [the book endorses the poststructuralist perspective of Barthes in “From Work to Text”]. (50)


Does Lodge's use of a mythic pattern that culminates in the rebirth of a dying god actually partake of the significance of living mythology? My answer is a flat "no." In the first place, the means by which Kingfisher will unify criticism and make it more broadly meaningful in a context of relativism and extreme specialization is never specified. We never learn what Kingfisher's creative, new critical position is or what sources of authority it taps. In short, the conclusion asserts concord without ever convincing us that it has been achieved. In its unearned,

archly forced, parodic nature, the denouement actually subverts its ostensible significance and bespeaks a larger absence of meaningful pattern. The book, in fact, sinks into the cultural morass to which it purportedly gives a firm shape. (54)


Frederick M. Holmes, “The Reader as Discoverer M David Lodge's Small World,” Critique 32 (1990): 47-57


The typical strategy of a Lodge novel is to place in caricatured antithesis the ideological poles of his world (theory and humanism, Zapp and Swallow, California and Birmingham, modernism and realism, technocrat and common man), allowing each to put the other into ironic question while the author himself disappears conveniently down the middle. The irony of this strategy, of course, is that its implied posture of Arnoldian disinterestedness places the text firmly on one side of the duality it is supposed to mediate. Lodge’s fictions guy the ineffectual academic liberal—but this, precisely, is testimony to the resilience of their liberalism, which thus rejects and retrieves itself at a stroke. The capacity to put itself into amused ironic question has been a commonplace of such thought since the days of Matthew Arnold, so that the position wrests its superiority from the very jaws of self-critical collapse. As with the deconstructor Paul de Man, the helpless vulnerability of one’s case becomes the exact index of its complacent unassailability. (97-8)


Eagleton, “The Silences of David Lodge,” New Left Review I/172, Nov-Dec 1988: 93-102


Zapp thus approaches the position of Swallow who had not participated in the deconstruction of the autonomous self and who, consequently, conceived of himself very much as a "man at the centre of his own story". Such rapprochement of two seemingly irreconcilable critical positions is entirely in keeping with the thrust of Lodge's novel. Despite the brilliant--and, in part, satirical--display of poststructuralist theory on the level of theoretical discourse, Lodge reveals his basically traditional orientation in an insistently reiterated question that assumes the significance of a leitmotif: ". . . . how can literary criticism maintain its Arnoldian function of identifying the best which has been thought and said, when literary discourse itself has been decentred by deconstructing the traditional concept of the author, of 'authority'[?]".

          This question has utterly baffled an Australian scholar who for months has been trying in vain to find an answer. But whereas the scholar is spared an answer and thereby saved from professional disgrace at an international conference by one of those miraculous occurrences in which the novel abounds, it is incumbent upon the reader to ponder the disquieting implications of that question for his or her critical practice as well as for departmental and institutional policy.


Siegfried Mews, “The Professor's Novel: David Lodge's Small World,” MLN 104, No. 3 (Apr., 1989): 713-726.