Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

It's All In the Family—Metamodernism and the Contemporary (Anglo-) ?"American" Novel
by DeToy, Terence, Ph.D., Tufts University, 2015, 268; 3728511
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the function of family as a thematic in the contemporary Anglo-American novel. It argues that contemporary aesthetics increasingly presents the family as an enabling platform for conciliation with the social totality: as a space of personal development, readying one for life in the wider social field. This analyses hinges on readings of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (2010), Zadie Smith’s NW (2012), A. M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven (2012) and Caryl Phillips’ In the Falling Snow. In approaching these novels, this project addresses the theoretical lacuna left open by the much-touted retreat of postmodernism as a general cultural-aesthetic strategy. This project identifies these novels as examples of a new and competing ideological constellation: metamodernism. Metamodernism encompasses the widely cited return of sincerity to contemporary aesthetics, though this project explains this development in a novel way: as a cultural expression from within the wider arc of postmodernism itself. One recurrent supposition within this project is that postmodernism, in its seeming nihilism, betrays a thwarted political commitment; on the other hand contemporary metamodern attitudes display the seriousness and earnestness of political causes carried out to an ironic disregard of the political. Metamodernism, in other words, is not a wholesale disavowal of postmodern irony, but a re-arrangement of its function: a move from sincere irony to an ironic sincerity. The central inquiry of this dissertation is into this re-arranged role of family and familial participation amidst this new cultural landscape. My argument is that family and the political have maintained a tense relationship through the twentieth century in the American consciousness. They represent competing models of futurity in a zero-sum game for an individual’s life-energy. What metamodernism represents, so this dissertation will articulate, is a new form of anti-politics: a fully gratified impulse to depoliticize. Analyzing what this project terms the “politics of the local,” this dissertation will argue that the highly popular and successful models of conscientious capitalism have been superseded. Today, increasingly, redemption from consumerism guilt is itself wrapped up in commodities: the utopian impulse celebrated by Fredric Jameson has itself obtained a price tag. The contemporary novel thus reflects new social functions for that which has trumped the political: the family.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Takayoshi, Ichiro
Commitee: Knapp, Kathy, Lurz, John, Wolff, Nathan
School: Tufts University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 77/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, American literature
Keywords: Contemporary literature, Cultural analysis, Cultural historiography, Metamodernism, Postmodernism
Publication Number: 3728511
ISBN: 978-1-339-13973-9
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