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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"And a soul in ev'ry stone": The ludic natures of "Pale Fire" and "Gravity's Rainbow"
by Kennedy, Robert Oran, M.A., The University of Utah, 2015, 82; 10001410
Abstract (Summary)

The author argues that ecocriticism has overlooked important works of mid-20th-century American literature because of their unorthodox approaches to writing about nature. These unorthodox approaches revolve around the use of humor and play to formulate arguments about nature. The author argues that because ecocriticism as a political critique emphasizes ecological catastrophe, humor and ludic writing tend to get ignored in the critical discussion. The author expresses the desire to expand the conversation on ludic texts. The author argues that two texts with relatively little ecocritical attention, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, use the aesthetic theories of Friedrich Nietzsche to explain the role of the non-human in human civilization.

In the first chapter, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire is argued to be a novel that is about the natural source of human aesthetic production. The author synthesizes studies of the novel and argues that Nabokov’s novel, both in its language and form, valorizes mimesis as the source of all aesthetic production. Nabokov’s belief in some form of design is examined through mimicry, and is found to permeate the novel through structural and descriptive references to games and nature. Nabokov is found to be influenced by the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche, Johan Huizinga, and Walter Benjamin. Nabokov ultimately finds that the justification for the world is aesthetic, that nature is important to humans as the origin of all artistic impulses.

The second chapter reads Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow through the many references to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, finding that the novel sets nature against civilization according to Nietzsche’s distinction between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. The author finds that the novel holds up the natural world as a counter-force to the capitalist impulse to control and exploit the natural and human worlds. The author examines how Pynchon uses Dionysian tropes like drunkenness, absurdity, music, and feelings of oneness in the novel in moments of resistance to the dominant order.

The conclusion suggests that the work of Friedrich Nietzsche ought to be examined as an influential source for modern views on the value of nature.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Tatum, Robert Stephen
Commitee: Pecora, Vincent, Rosen, Jeremy
School: The University of Utah
Department: College of Humanities
School Location: United States -- Utah
Source: MAI 55/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Slavic literature, Environmental philosophy, American literature
Keywords: Ecocriticism, Environmental humanities, Nabokov, Vladimir, Nietzsche, Friedrich, Play, Pynchon, Thomas
Publication Number: 10001410
ISBN: 978-1-339-41342-6
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