Art and community in postmodern American fiction (1955--2001)
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This dissertation investigates the quest for an art-mediated form of community in the fiction of four major American authors, written or published between 1955 and 2001. It argues that the authors William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Don DeLillo turn to the sense of recognition which artworks afford as a substitute for the compromised "naturalist" community models of the nineteenth and early twentieth century such as race, class, and the nation. In emphasizing the communal properties of the creative act, these authors distance themselves from the traditional European Künstlerroman (artist-novel), which, as I argue in the introduction of this dissertation, advocates the incompatibility of art and community. For modernist authors such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust, the artist-character can only create artworks at the expense of his social interaction, an idea that is perhaps best expressed by Woolf's painter Lily Briscoe, in To The Lighthouse , who defines the artist as somebody who is "drawn out of gossip, out of living, out of community with people." It is this felt incompatibility between art and community which the American authors discussed in this dissertation set out to overturn by emphasizing what I call the "double bind" in which every artwork finds itself, between its being a unique and therefore always defamiliar(izing) object while at the same time expressing the human condition in a recognizable and therefore communal fashion. Within the context of American literature proper, this renewed attention for the communal properties of art should moreover be read as a criticism of the Beat Generation authors of the 1950s. As I argue in the first chapter, also Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were very much interested in the communal aspects of art. Their approach is fundamentally different from that of the authors discussed in this dissertation, however, in that the Beats conceptualized these art-mediated communities as utopian alternatives to the existing social status quo rather than as attempts to reconfigure the social realm from within, as they appear in the novels of Gaddis, Pynchon, Kingston, and DeLillo.