The spectral narrative : hauntology and the meaning of the sacred in postmodern American literature.

Date
2013-08
Authors
Hamilton, Robert, 1985-
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Abstract

This dissertation reads the novels of three postmodern authors—Snow White and The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—in light of the concept of hauntology. Hauntology, a term introduced by Jacques Derrida in his work Specters of Marx, refers to influences and forces that operate remotely and partially, without being genuinely present in the work, but also not entirely absent. Therefore, hauntology can, on a literal level, account for the presence of actual ghost stories within literary works; on a broader plane, though, it can also comprehend the unreal or hyper-real effects of ideas, linguistic styles, ethical systems, and theological propositions that continue to control the postmodern novel from “beyond the grave.” I argue that hauntology becomes increasingly important to postmodern literature, but that it shows signs of a long and healthy existence in earlier works, and also that there is every reason to assume it will continue to determine the literature that struggles to move beyond the postmodern styles of the second half of the twentieth century. After a theoretical introduction, the second chapter considers the “high postmodern” novels of Donald Barthelme, which display a collage-like surface and an excessive deployment of manic styles that point to something larger than themselves; they are more than the sum of their parts. They also directly deal with the idea of revenance and zombification, of both characters and concepts. The third chapter moves to David Foster Wallace, whose discomfort with postmodernism leads him to try to escape it, while still letting its characteristics haunt his narratives. Finally, the fourth chapter discusses the work of Jennifer Egan, who develops an eschatological style that welcomes the ghosts that come from the future, demonstrating that the orientation of future fiction will be fundamentally messianic. Not only does this chronological study show the development of postmodern novelistic style over the span of five decades, but it also shows the power of hauntology to explain the fiction of the future as well as the past and present.

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Keywords
Weak theology., Hauntology., Negative theology., Postmodernism., Barthelme, Donald., Wallace, David Foster, Egan, Jennifer
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