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Title: The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
Author: Kalisch, Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 4796
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Exploring the traffic between U.S. literary culture and political philosophy, this thesis surveys works by a range of leading male contemporary American novelists alongside the recent resurgent interest in friendship as a political concept. Long exiled from serious political philosophy, friendship returned as a crucial term in late twentieth-century communitarian debates about citizenship. Friendship also became integral to continental philosophy's exploration of the ontology of democracy, and, in a different guise, to histories of sexuality. Across these disciplines, friendship has been invoked as a pliable figure of affiliation, and often idealised as modelling equality. This thesis probes the origins of friendship's re-emergence in American political thought, and analyses how this far-reaching revival has registered in American fiction. The Introduction outlines how friendship has played a central role in the theory and practice of democratic politics since Aristotle suggested philia as fundamental to citizenship. In the U.S. context, male friendship in particular functioned as model for civic association in the nascent republic, and continued to be employed as a figure of egalitarian association in canonical works of nineteenth-century fiction. Yet despite its prominence historically in the U.S. civic imaginary, friendship was sidelined from American political culture for much of the twentieth century, until its rediscovery in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a wide-ranging critique of liberal individualism. The Introduction analyses how this renewal of critical commentary within mainstream liberal thought mirrored continental philosophy's contemporaneous exploration of democratic theory, wherein friendship was similarly examined as a vexed yet evocative site for the contestation of forms of political community. Marshalling this history, the thesis' main chapters argue that contemporary U.S. fiction continues to look to male friendship to explore questions of civic affiliation, political agency, and community, and to probe the history of these concepts in twentieth-century American liberalism. Chapter One focuses on Philip Roth's I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000), and analyses how Roth connects the political culture of the 1940s to the 1990s through the male friendships framing each narrative. Chapter Two draws on the anthropology of the gift to examine forms of reciprocity between male friends in Paul Auster's fiction. Chapter Three considers how novels by Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem contextualise their portrayals of interracial male friendship within the legacies of 1960s political radicalism. A Conclusion considers how some of the key themes emerging in previous chapters are reflected in Benjamin Markovits' You Don't Have to Live Like This (2015).
Supervisor: Boddy, Kasia Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: American ; Fiction ; Contemporary ; Friendship