Fictions of proximity: the Wallace Nexus in contemporary literature

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dc.contributor.author Personn, Tim
dc.date.accessioned 2018-08-09T21:28:17Z
dc.date.copyright 2018 en_US
dc.date.issued 2018-08-09
dc.identifier.uri https://dspace.library.uvic.ca//handle/1828/9886
dc.description.abstract This dissertation studies a group of contemporary Anglo-American novelists who contribute to the development of a new humanism after the postmodern critique of Euro-American culture. As such, these writers respond to positions in twentieth-century philosophy that converge in a call for silence which has an ontological as well as ethical valence: as a way of rigorously thinking the ‘outside’ to language, it avoids charges of metaphysical inauthenticity; as an ethical stance in the wake of the Shoah, it eschews a complicity with the reifications of modern culture. How to reconcile this post-metaphysical promise with the politico-aesthetic inadequacy of speechlessness is the central question for this nexus of novelists—David Markson, Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith—at the center of which the study locates Wallace as a key figure of contemporary literature. By reconstructing the conversation among these authors, this dissertation argues that the nexus writers turn to indirect means of representation that do justice to the demand for silence in matters of metaphysics, but also gesture past it in the development of a neo-romantic aesthetics that invites the humanist category of the self back onto the scene after its dismissal by late postmodernism. The key to such indirection lies in an aporetic method that inspires explorations of metaphysical assumptions by seducing readers to an ambiguous site of aesthetic wonder; in conversation with a range of contemporary philosophers, the dissertation defines this affective site as a place of proximity, rather than absorption or detachment, which balances out the need for metaphysical distance with the productive desire for a fullness of experience. Such proximate aesthetic experiences continue the work of ‘doing metaphysics’ in post-metaphysical times by engaging our habitual responsiveness to the categories involved. Hence the novels discussed here stage limit cases of reason such as the unknowable world, the unreachable other, the absence of the self, and the unstable hierarchy between irony and sincerity: Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress imagines skepticism as literal abandonment and reminds us of our metaphysical indebtedness to a desired object/world; Ellis’s American Psycho shows the breakdown of communication due to a similarly skeptical vision of human interaction and presents a violence that tries to force a response from the desired subject/person; Wallace’s Infinite Jest creates a large canvas on which episodes of metaphysical and literal ‘stuckness’ afford possibilities for becoming human; Smith’s The Autograph Man, finally, pays attention to gestural language at the breaking point of materialism and theology, nature and culture, tragedy and comedy. en_US
dc.language English eng
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.rights Available to the World Wide Web en_US
dc.subject Contemporary Fiction en_US
dc.subject David Foster Wallace en_US
dc.subject David Markson en_US
dc.subject Zadie Smith en_US
dc.subject Bret Easton Ellis en_US
dc.subject Stanley Cavell en_US
dc.subject Romanticism en_US
dc.subject American Literature en_US
dc.subject Wallace Studies en_US
dc.title Fictions of proximity: the Wallace Nexus in contemporary literature en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.contributor.supervisor Douglas, Christopher
dc.contributor.supervisor Ross, Stephen
dc.degree.department Department of English en_US
dc.degree.level Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D. en_US
dc.description.scholarlevel Graduate en_US
dc.description.embargo 2020-08-01

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