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Contemporary Drift : The Tenses of the Present and the Afterlives of Genre

Author: Theodore Jacob Martin
Publisher: Berkeley, CA, 2011.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph.D. in English)--University of California, Berkeley, 2011.
Edition/Format:   Thesis/dissertation : Document : Thesis/dissertation : eBook   Computer File : English
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
What do we mean, this dissertation asks, when we talk about "contemporary literature"? Far from being a fixed category of literary history, the contemporary is always on the move. Just as the "now" when I am writing this abstract is different from the "now" when you are reading it, the contemporary does not so much delimit history as drift across it. So what does it mean to call ourselves contemporary? In  Read more...
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Details

Genre/Form: Dissertations, Academic
Material Type: Document, Thesis/dissertation, Internet resource
Document Type: Internet Resource, Computer File
All Authors / Contributors: Theodore Jacob Martin
OCLC Number: 858269155
Description: 1 online resource (141 leaves.)
Responsibility: Theodore Jacob Martin.

Abstract:

What do we mean, this dissertation asks, when we talk about "contemporary literature"? Far from being a fixed category of literary history, the contemporary is always on the move. Just as the "now" when I am writing this abstract is different from the "now" when you are reading it, the contemporary does not so much delimit history as drift across it. So what does it mean to call ourselves contemporary? In "Contemporary Drift," I argue that "contemporary" is more than a name for novelty--it is also an untimely connection to the past. We can best grasp this paradox of contemporary life, I suggest, by reading it through the historical dynamics of genre. More drag than drift, genres stay the same even as they change over time; they are recognizable precisely to the extent to that they're repeatable. The iterations of genre interrupt the fragile immediacy of the contemporary. Reconsidering the fates of the historical novel, the realist novel, the detective novel, and the noir film, I claim that genre shows us what it means--and what it takes--to see ourselves in history. The way we consolidate a sense of the now is intimately connected to larger issues of literary history: how we construct canons, how we distinguish historical periods, how we lay claim to the continued relevance of the past. My project thus aims to reorient our literary present by looking not at new forms but at renewed forms. Each chapter of my dissertation engages the recent "afterlife" of an older genre in order to show how it conjures a complex image of the contemporary. These reanimated genres insist on the present's singularity yet inevitably invoke its continuity with the past. I consider the strange figure of the speaking dead that links classic film noir to the nostalgic repetitions of neo-noir; the entangled politics of waiting, reading, and race that structure the detective fiction of Colson Whitehead, Michael Chabon, and Vikram Chandra; the tension between the distant gaze of periodization and the everyday details of realism staged in the work of Bret Easton Ellis and J.M. Coetzee; and the modes of anachronism that shape historical novels by John Fowles and Tom McCarthy. These ostensibly outdated genres show how the present can encompass days, decades, even centuries. In doing so, they suggest that being contemporary means always being just a little out of date.

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