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Title: Contested mythologies : Nixon's America and the inscription of political crisis in the fiction of Irvin Faust, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Stanley Elkin and Donald Barthelme
Author: Braman, Edward Bernard
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 0446
Awarding Body: Birkbeck, University of London
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis proposes a new approach to gauging the political content of American postmodernist literature. Locating its analysis inside the historical intensities of the mid-60s through to the early 70s – the Nixon Years – it argues that the period’s experimental writing inscribes a climate of political crisis by invoking the mythologies that drive U.S. ideological thinking, and then unravelling the contestations inside those mythologies. The argument revolves around four case studies, each of which is tested for the degree to which its formal postmodernist strategies underpin a periodic expression of equivocation inside America’s foundational myths. In the first extended analysis of the novelist Irvin Faust, the author’s metafictions are shown to destabilise the inherited myth of City Upon a Hill exceptionalism, particularly around Vietnam. In the under-examined work of Rudolph Wurlitzer, the myth of the western frontier – re-invoked by Kennedy’s New Frontier in 1960 – is ontologically reimagined as a site of regressive violence as opposed to civilised progress. The Nixon Years novels of Stanley Elkin, meanwhile, are positioned as postmodernist parables whose rhetorical extravagance is targeted at the American myth of success, and the financial crisis of 1973. The discrete strategies of these three writers are then examined in aggregate in the work of a canonical postmodernist, Donald Barthelme, and lead to the suggestion that his major novels of the Nixon Years, Snow White and The Dead Father, are overarching expressions of a trajectory from a frustrated optimism in the Kennedy 60s to a crisis of political inertia and recursion in the Watergate mid-70s. The thesis concludes that American postmodernist literature can be read as a politically critical engagement with the grand narratives of America’s foundation, and its persistent political rhetoric, where the destabilisations of assumed narrative forms inscribe the disorientations inside America’s traditions of public belief.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available