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Title: A metaphysical country : American pragmatist fictions in Barth, Pynchon, and Reed
Author: Hall, J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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The aim of this thesis is to reread the work of three US writers, whose novels have long been central to the postmodern canon - John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Ishmael Reed - in relation to philosophical pragmatism. The scepticism expressed in their parodic reworkings of everything from mythology, to history, to philosophy and literature will be resituated alongside an antifoundational philosophy that Cornel West has described as ‘an attempt to explain America to itself at a particular historical moment’. In each chapter I will be elucidating connections that exist between these writers and pragmatist philosophers, in particular William James. From this platform I will be exploring how philosophical pragmatism has informed the attempts made by these writers to ‘explain America to itself’, attempts which in each case have been critical of the US, while also perpetuating some of its exceptionalist claims. Ultimately, I will be suggesting that while these postmodern novelists are relentlessly anxious about the failure of representation and the intractability of epistemological problems, this does not lead them into silence. Rather, they energetically perform the evasion of epistemology that West attributes to pragmatism, an evasion in which metaphysics and epistemology are partially replaced by a national history that recognizes itself as fictional. The chapter on Barth will focus on his attempts to quarantine fiction from the world, while recognizing, and to an extent celebrating, the mutual infection of story and history. The chapter on Pynchon will examine the sense of inevitability in his novels about inhabiting structures such as science, religion, or nation, with a corresponding hope that there will be room enough for humans to make themselves at home within such structures. The chapter on Reed will look at his efforts at syncretism, refashioning US history using African religion and mythology.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available