Self-seeing in Paul Auster, Philip Roth and Don Delillo

Jones, Michael (2014) Self-seeing in Paul Auster, Philip Roth and Don Delillo. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis considers how Auster, Roth and DeLillo write in order to see themselves in the world.

If Kafka’s burrowing into himself and Nabokov’s inscription of a chalk-white “I” on the inner blackboard of his shut eyelids exemplified Modernist strategies for projecting the isolated self into the world, my subject authors have confronted a theoretical situation in which the world as a permanent and common object doesn’t exist. Negotiating an increasingly unreal American popular culture that stands in for this object and that has disassembled the monadic self, they reimagine the sight of darkness and premonitions of death inherited from their precursors’ self-seeing as a means of reifying our world.

The thesis proceeds in three author-specific chapters. The first traces Auster’s chimeric appearances in the glass of fictive representation using popular cultural symbols. These symbols repeatedly erase the self, figuring its disappearance into the continuing present and giving the lie to a permanent visible world in which the self can be located. The second chapter explores Roth’s writing characters as “darkening[s]” of the fictive glass. His fiction interrogates the obscure “inside of me” to locate an unseen point where the self is remade through transformative connections with the world. This connection, which he names “reality”, remains invisible, communicated in distorted images of grief and mourning that also reflect the unreal character of popular culture. In the final chapter, a new connection between the self and the world becomes visible in DeLillo’s work. He reifies our dissembling culture by rendering it as a smeary, visible reflection of the unfixed, continuing present into which Auster’s selves disappear. The sight of this unfixed, different world is co-eval with a new form of self-seeing in which the world is not permanent nor transparent but formed in characters’ relationships to it, reciprocating today’s wavering possibility of there being the world at all.

In tracing the pursuit of self-seeing in the world in these three exemplary writers, the thesis develops a new relationship between the aesthetics of character and the world-rendering potential of novel-writing. In a period of theoretical transition after postmodernism, such new paradigms are vital for grasping how we envision selves now as reciprocations of the world’s precarity, responding to the pressure of the real.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0185 By period > PS0221 20th century
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2014 15:21
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49

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