The self-overcoming heterodoxy of the political novel: A comparative study of the work of Graham Greene, Thomas Pynchon and William S. Burroughs

Baird, Thomas Henry (1993) The self-overcoming heterodoxy of the political novel: A comparative study of the work of Graham Greene, Thomas Pynchon and William S. Burroughs. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis attempts to link the fictional approaches of three very distinctive political novelists: Graham Greene, Thomas Pynchon, and William Burroughs. In so doing, it attempts to surmount what is commonly perceived as an impasse in political thinking, as it applies to the political novel of the modern and post-modern periods. The subject matter of politics within the novels becomes more precisely that of sociology, in that there is an emphasis upon how both politics and society are shaped by self-contradictory ideals and cultural eclecticism. Each novelist under discussion adheres to a twentieth-century restatement of the political in personal, often existential terms, such as alienation or a desire for self-determination. In particular, an individual character's point of view tends to work against the logic of cause and effect, such as that necessary to historical representation or the sense of destiny which drives political ideologies. At the literary level, this fundamental aspect of the personalisation of politics contributes to a disruption of generic expectations regarding the political novel. Certain perceived ideals which contribute to historical expositions or political idealism are avoided or parodied in the works of Greene, Pynchon and Burroughs. These include individual heroism, unequivocal patriotism, an unambiguous moral framework, political idealism, and the importance of revolution. At the level of theme, all three writers avoid focusing in detail upon historical presentation of actual events, or identifying with any received political ideologies. Instead, certain ideas emerge in the fiction under discussion, in light of which the political process is itself problematic and which illustrate the schism between theoretical hypothesis and practical necessity. 1. Regarding a broad questioning of the meaning of "liberty", primarily in terms of an individual's rationalisation by his social role and status and by bureaucratic or political forces. 2. Regarding the meaning of "democracy" in practical terms. More specifically, how an unrepresentative freedom from accountability for technocrats and multinational organisations is used to portray the pluralistic nature of democracy, as is the proliferation of bureaucracies whose functions are impractical, repressive and socially divisive. Also Greene, Pynchon and Burroughs criticise microcultural or micropolitical groups, that seek to define political representation merely in terms of cultural identity. 3. In relation to the above, bureaucracy and microcultures are shown to be insular to the degree that they are unable to incorporate their activity constructively into a broader socio-political context. More generally, there is a converse failure primarily within a capitalist system of liberal democracy, which results from an attempt to incorporate ideals sometimes opposed to its very being, in turn reducing political protest and revolt to parodies of their initial purpose. 4. With regard to Pynchon and Burroughs, an emphasis upon technology and leisure in advanced capitalism is portrayed as creating a radical confusion of society's needs and our desires which both destroys the ethical component of capitalism and our ethical behaviour. The novels of Greene, Pynchon and Burroughs studied herein, between them evaluate the above ideas in a manner demonstrative of the failure of liberal democracy in general to co-ordinate its two key operative principles; individual freedom of self-determination, and bureaucratic rationalisation of man as social functionary. Their criticisms of this practical contradiction can be illuminated by a broader context of modern sceptical thought. A relevant example from the discipline of philosophy is the "hermeneutic phenomenology" of Martin Heidegger, while sociological ideas with their origin in the nineteen - sixties, such as "future shock", and the complex relationship of power to knowledge examined by Michel Foucault are also helpful. Finally, the credibility of any received ideology to answer the questions raised and problems identified in the fiction herein, may be tested by comparison to existing political ideals which seem to befit the writers' arguments best. Conversely, it is possible that each of these writers forms a secondary allegiance to extreme political views which aid the construction of their socio - political contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Comparative literature.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities
Supervisor's Name: Coyle, Dr. John and Prickett, Professor Stephen
Date of Award: 1993
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1993-71331
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2021 10:26
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71331

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