Cultural reproduction in contemporary American fiction

Moran, Alexander James Paul (2017). Cultural reproduction in contemporary American fiction. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis traces the ways in which David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead react against the historical, institutional, and formal limits imposed upon contemporary fiction and culture. It argues that in order to counteract such constraints, they embrace and co-opt older forms and values as enabling for their fiction. To map these processes and relationships, I read these five writers as engaging with and reflective of the concept of cultural reproduction. Building largely from Raymond Williams’s definitions, the lens of cultural reproduction acknowledges what Williams terms the ‘limits and pressures’ of the contemporary – such as the inheritance of postmodernism, creative writing programs, technological changes, and commercial demands – but also how these writers display agency in reaction to such limits. Chapter One uses pragmatist philosopher John Dewey’s theories of habit to suggest Wallace’s work explores the way culture is reproduced habitually. Chapter Two contends that Franzen’s attention to these processes is distinctly melodramatic, and his writing embodies melodrama, rather than his stated realism. Chapter Three examines Chabon, Egan, and Whitehead as representative of the ‘genrefication’ of contemporary American fiction, and how each embrace genre forms to respond to different elements and processes of cultural reproduction.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature


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