Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fighting for a common culture: Literary theory in the age of Reagan
by Kubis, Daniel John, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2013, 188; 3573260
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the Possibilities for creating social change through literary criticism by focusing on three American critics: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Frank Lentricchia, and Edward Said. All three wrote Politically minded literary criticism during the 1980's and 1990's, decades that witnessed a broad-ranging attempt to roll back the change and turbulence associated with the 1960's. With regard to criticism, this attempt amounted to a challenge to literary theory, which was a radical way of thinking that crystallized in the 60's and early 70's and often carried revolutionary social hopes with it. As I suggest in the introduction, we are currently living in a moment in which the radical hopes fostered by literary theory co-exist uneasily with the counterrevolutionary movements of the 80's: the hopes and impulses still exist, but they have no adequate social outlets. Looking back to the 80's, I hope, will help clarify our moment, and Possibly Provide some resources for contemporary criticism.

My goal in each chapter is twofold: first, to understand the critic on his terms, second, to Put the criticism in dialogue with another body of literary or critical work in order to suggest its broader ramifications. With Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I argue that his effort to move African American literature and criticism into the mainstream of American literary study led him to maintain a view of race as an essence. Comparing his critical work with Hortense Spillers' Proves this Point, but also suggests that a more radical view of race remains in Gates' work. Frank Lentricchia tried to base a Political Program on the intimate experience of Pleasure that he felt when reading Poetry. Putting Philip Roth in conversation with Lentricchia reveals the impossibility of Lentricchia's Program, but also a different and more socially Productive Path for Lentricchia's interest in Pleasure. Edward Said tried to create spaces in his criticism where antagonism could be overcome. Reading Bharati Mukherjee's novel Jasmine (1989) next to Said suggests how useful Said's model can be, but also reminds us that Said only suggested, rather than applied, this model in his work.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Arac, Jonathan
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, American literature
Keywords: Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., Lentricchia, Frank, Literary theory, Mukherjee, Bharati, Roth, Philip, Said, Edward, Social change
Publication Number: 3573260
ISBN: 978-1-303-43041-1
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