Between times: 21st century American fiction and the long sixties

West, Mark Peter (2014) Between times: 21st century American fiction and the long sixties. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines conceptions of time and history in five American novels published between 1995 and 2012 which take as their subject matter events associated with the counterculture and New Left of the 1960s and 1970s.

The thesis is organized around close readings of five novels. The first chapter focuses on Jennifer Egan’s The Invisible Circus (1995) and argues that it incorporates a number of problematic temporal experiences which have the effect of establishing a key tension of all the novels considered here: the concern with contextualizing and historicizing particular events and cultural atmospheres while remaining faithful to utopian ideas of radical change. Chapter two argues that Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document (2006) is oriented both structurally and thematically towards a future in which the relationship between the 1960s and 1990s will more clearly understandable. The third chapter examines the way Christopher Sorrentino’s Trance (2005) explores the multiplicitous nature of historical narratives, and how he distinguishes between those narratives and a conception of the bare events beneath them. The focus of chapter four is Lauren Groff’s Arcadia (2012) and examines how conceptions of the relationship between humans and nature influence theories of time, mythic histories and post-apocalyptic narratives. The final chapter on David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (2011) argues that the tension between continuation and change found in the conversion narrative is partly reconciled by a conception of time that allows the moment of radical utopian change (the moment of conversion) to be one of re-entrance into history.

At stake throughout is the way these novels’ interpretation of particular events and larger cultural tendencies reveals and makes manifest various processes of historicization. I maintain a dual focus on the way these novels present historicization as something undertaken by individuals and societies and the ways in which these novels themselves not only engage in historicizations of the period but are in various ways self-conscious about doing so. If contemporary scholarship on the emergence of what has been called post-postmodern literature (Stephen J. Burn, Andrew Hoberek, Adam Kelly, Caren Irr) identifies a return to temporal concerns in recent fiction, the readings that comprise my thesis also make use of conceptions of time and history by Mark Currie, Jacques Derrida, Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Mailer, Christopher Lasch, and Robert N. Bellah (among others) in order to ask: what are the particular material contours of the experiences of time and history manifested in these recent examples of the ‘sixties novel’?

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: American literature, contemporary literature, American history, temporality, history, New Left, counterculture, historiography, historicisation, the sixties, utopianism
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Coyle, Dr John
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Dr Mark West
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5621
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2014 14:00
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2017 08:42

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