Necessary Fictions: The U.S. Novel in the End of Ideology

Open Access
Gonzalez, Jeffrey C
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 02, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Kathryn Hume, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Kathryn Hume, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Benjamin Jared Schreier, Committee Member
  • Claire Mary Colebrook, Committee Member
  • Eric Robert Hayot, Committee Member
  • globalization
  • postmodern novel
  • literary criticism
  • Contemporary literature
  • critical theory
ABSTRACT: NECESSARY FICTIONS: THE U.S. NOVEL IN THE END OF IDEOLOGY My dissertation attempts to trace developments in U.S. literary production over the last two decades. I posit that the fall of the Berlin Will and the rise to dominance of neoliberal globalization caused a shift in the structure of feeling that has characterized the educated U.S. classes. While the Cold War produced a certain apocalyptic anxiety, the hegemony of global capital engenders uneasiness precisely because the problems it produces seem endless and intractable without anything to oppose it. Consumerism, corporatism, atomizing individualisms, gentrification, legacies of violence and inequality abetted by neoliberalism: the contemporary U.S. intellectual has no answer to these issues. In bringing together a group of authors usually considered separately, I demonstrate how these anxieties are reflected in this literature’s consistent use of the tragic view. I borrow this term from Lucien Goldmann, who used it to describe the outlook that produced Pascal’s wager. Each author that the dissertation analyzes makes wagers that hope to return meaning, hope, or possibility to a life that seems utterly overdetermined. I call these “fictions” because these writers, aware that postructuralism has undermined the humanism these texts espouse, emphasize the use-value rather than the truth-value of their claims. What makes them “necessary” is that these writers see life dominated by nihilism and relativism without them. In readings of major contemporary novels by David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Marilynne Robinson, Dinaw Mengestu, and Junot Díaz, my dissertation provides a much-needed political and economic context absent from other criticism on contemporary fiction. The study disputes the charge that contemporary literature lacks political content and has little regard for traditional humanistic concerns. In discerning the consistent ideological underpinnings across a disparate group of writers, Necessary Fictions takes an important step toward defining the literature that appears to be succeeding postmodernism.