Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Beyond completion: Towards a genealogy of unfinishable novels
by Wallen, James Ramsey, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2014, 512; 3617121
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines strange literary phenomena I call "unfinishable novels," or novels whose very structure and/or worldview would seem to prohibit the possibility of their own "successful" conclusion. Famous examples include Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Franz Kafka's The Trial, and Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities. Focusing on a canonical and historically diverse selection of Euro-American texts and authors ranging from Rabelais to Thomas Pynchon, my project not only contributes to the critical literature on my primary texts by examining and contextualizing their "unfinishability," but also suggests a new historiography of the novel by focusing less on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--the zenith of the novel's cultural and political importance, but also a period dominated by linear plotlines--and more on periods (early modern and twentieth century) in which the status of endings was far more uncertain, thus tracing something like a "backstage history" of the genre.

To develop a theoretical-historical framework in which to read these texts, both on their own terms and in the context of the history of the novel, my dissertation puts into practice a "prosaics of unfinishability," a critical methodology that privileges prose and the novel and attempts to be less weighed down by what I call "the poetic prejudice," i.e. the assumption that all literary texts worthy of the name should form organically unified totalities. This prejudice has historically dominated the discourses surrounding unfinished works, which, when they are acknowledged at all, are traditionally described in terms of an author's "failure" to achieve perfection.

The dissertation is divided into three section ("The Modern Novel," "The Modernist Novel," and "The Postmodern Novel,"), preceded by an Introduction that uses Pessoa's unfinishable Book of Disquiet to articulate a theory of both unfinished works and unfinishable novels, which I define as "novels that can only be completed as unfinished works." The Introduction offers a critique of the traditional poetics of the unfinished work and its corollary rhetoric of failure before describing my own "prosaic" methodology and outlining my project.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Godzich, Wlad B.
Commitee: Freccero, Carla, Greene, Jody
School: University of California, Santa Cruz
Department: Literature
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 75/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Modern literature, Literature
Keywords: Bakhtin, Franz Kafka, History of the novel, Prose, Robert musil, Unfinishable novels, Unfinished works
Publication Number: 3617121
ISBN: 978-1-303-84254-2
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