Creative destruction : disaster studies, late naturalism, and the American novel
- This dissertation uncovers how an understudied group of American interwar novelists employed naturalist narrative practices to shape an emerging field of disaster studies. Marked by the 1920 publication of the first academic study of disaster, Samuel Henry Prince's Catastrophe and Social Change, the idea of disaster as an act of god, something impenetrable and unexplainable, is superseded during the interwar period by the notion of disaster as a subject for analysis, theory, and re-imagination. This new conception of disaster was taken up by writers and researchers alike, who responded to disaster's pressures with narrative structures aimed at illuminating the event's disrupting agency while mapping its vast social impact. Literature's engagement with disaster during this period, however, remains critically neglected. This is due to disaster's common association with war, and in a related tendency, dominant interpretation through the lens of trauma theory, which tends to explain the extraordinary event through its illegible abstraction. In contrast to such approaches, my project traces disaster's distinct conceptualization outside war's framework, and reveals disaster's prolific narratability, its non-traumatic form. By reading popular yet critically non-canonical novels by Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck alongside concurrent disaster studies texts, I show how American modernism----in an impulse I label "late naturalism"----formalizes and comprehends itself within disaster's expanding scales and speeds of social change and environmental risk. Featuring chapters which study Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey with Cather's Alexander's Bridge, Lewis's Arrowsmith, and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, each section of Creative Destruction operates as an interdisciplinary case study focused on a specific, though interconnected, form of disaster: infrastructural, epidemiological, and "natural." Reading Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey and its interest in "accident" and "intention" through geologic studies and mass market texts published by the Red Cross, I show how the novel blurs the line between disaster research and fiction while formally interpreting disaster's narrative characteristics, such as an over-determined sense of historicity, character connectivity, and the urge for explanatory totality. My chapter on John Steinbeck, which examines The Grapes of Wrath, collates depression-era disaster research with contemporary interventions by Naomi Klein and Rebecca Solnit to argue that Steinbeck's naturalist pairing of social-historical realities with biological tropes presciently critiques the tenuous border between man-made and natural disaster. Linking the issues raised in these chapters to discussions of naturalism by Jennifer Fleissner, Donald Pizer, and Georg Lukács; and recent works in ecocriticism and literary disaster theory by Rob Nixon, Lauren Berlant, and Paul Saint-Amour, Creative Destruction offers a theory of modernism which divulges naturalism's constant and constitutive influence therein, and finds materializing within the interwar period an anticipated concern with theories of the posthuman and the Anthropocene.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Mann, Joshua Kirkpatrick
|Stanford University, Department of English.
|McGurl, Mark, 1966-
|McGurl, Mark, 1966-
|Statement of responsibility
|Joshua Kirkpatrick Mann.
|Submitted to the Department of English.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2016.
- © 2016 by Joshua Kirkpatrick Mann
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