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Title: Fictional liberalism, novel democracy : the post-war American novel and the state of American liberal democracy
Author: McDonald, Brian Jay
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
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That the fundamental tension between liberalism and democracy, the two founding imperatives of the American political tradition, has been an important theme of the American novel is obvious when one considers the contribution that writers of the stature of Melville, Hawthorne, Twain, James, Dos Passos, and Steinbeck have made to the discussion of liberal democracy in America. Richard Rorty has recently offered the view that there is little value in exploring the work of contemporary novelists for their assessments of the state of American civil and political life since, “in America, at the end of the twentieth century, few inspiring images and stories are being proffered”, with those examples of literary “elite culture” that are produced (he does single out the novel) being “written in tones of either self-mockery or of self-disgust” (Achieving Our Country: 1998, 4-6). It is my contention that rather then being consummate connoisseurs of political despondency, many prominent postwar American novelists continue to productively participate in the ongoing theoretical and political discussion amongst historiographers, political theorists, literary critics, essayist, and journalists, that perennially surrounds the subject of the state of American liberal democracy. This study focuses on the fiction of four of America’s most important postwar novelists – Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo – and seeks to present the political themes and issues raised in their work as a relevant and often eloquent evocation of the liberal democratic tradition in American thought, an element of the contemporary American novel that connects it to the sensibilities and concerns of previous generations of American writers, and which is often overlooked by critics who emphasize its narrative experimentation, postmodern scepticism, or chronic epistemological uncertainty. My approach, while certainly interdisciplinary, strives to stay faithful to the literariness of the work with which it deals, keeping firmly in mind the importance of the imaginative and formal resources which the novelist has at hand when he/she ventures into political territory.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available