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The Novels of Michael Chabon and the Politics and Poetics of Postmodernism

By Frederik De Vadder

Abstract

Even though the heyday of postmodernism is behind us, its legacy still persists in contemporary American fiction. This dissertation discusses the complex relationship between the politics and poetics of postmodernism and Michael Chabon's novels. Every chapter consists of a theoretical framework on an aspect of postmodern literature and a reading of one of Chabon's novels in the light of that theoretical framework. I have read Wonder Boys as a piece of fiction that displays a high level of self-awareness. More specifically, I have charted two branches of this metafictional undercurrent in Wonder Boys. On the one hand, Chabon summons a varied cast of characters that produce and/or consume fiction and these characters' opinions form a polyphony of metafictional voices. On the other hand, Wonder Boys itself is a work of fiction and as such it is the result of the creative process that took place in its author's mind. Therefore, I have also read Wonder Boys as representative of Chabon’s ‘new’ poetics. It can be seen as an attempt to (ab)use genre literature – though not to the extent of some of his later novels – in order to express the metafictional doubts he has about himself as a writer in particular, and about the act of writing in general. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay builds on the foundation of Wonder Boys and displays the same self-awareness about storytelling and the act of creating art. I have read Kavalier & Clay in the light of Brian McHale’s definition of postmodern literature. According to McHale modernist literature is mostly concerned with epistemological issues – it is difficult to know what is true – while postmodernist literature is concerned with ontological issues – it is difficult to know what exists. McHale’s definition of postmodern literature as an expression of ontological doubt allows for a reading of Kavalier & Clay as a postmodern, metafictional novel as it enables us to explore and chart the different worlds and correlating ontologies that constitute Kavalier & Clay. Kavalier & Clay contains multiple worlds that interact with each other and through the interaction between these worlds it forces us to reconsider the potential and the limitations of narratives, and of the novel. The Final Solution and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are illustrations of what is arguably Chabon’s signature postmodern poetical trait: the use and abuse of genre fiction. With the shift of the bourgeois Realist novel to the postmodern embrace of genre fiction, the literary landscape was reshaped in two ways. On the one hand, the frame of reference changed from mimetic and realistic to generic and fabulist. On the other hand, genre fiction became self-aware and critical of itself and of literature at large. Genre became an ideal tool for postmodern authors, such as Michael Chabon, who could abuse the rules and bend and twist the expectations customarily linked to a certain genre to achieve specific effects. This is why I have approached Chabon’s detective novels from a pragmatic point of view, rather than the traditional structural approach to genre studies: I wanted to determine the function of Chabon’s postmodern genre experiments. Chabon’s detective novels invert and parody the social, moral and rational reassurance that traditional detective fiction offers. Chabon’s detective novels strip their readers from the grand narratives or metanarratives that function as consoling safety-nets. These detective novels are examples of anti-trauma literature that enter into a dialogue with respectively the Holocaust and the political conflict in Israel. These novels are in fact postmodern expressions of the fragmented postmodern condition. My analysis of Telegraph Avenue continues in this vein as I explore the postmodern politics underlying Chabon’s postmodern poetics. Telegraph Avenue is set in the Berkeley/Oakland area. Much of the story takes place in and around a record store on Telegraph Avenue, the avenue connecting Berkeley to Oakland. This record store, called Brokeland Records, is owned and operated by two of Telegraph Avenue’s main characters and it is more than just a backdrop against which the actions are set: it serves as a symbol, a metaphor for the surrounding economic waste land. Brokeland is a slice of the postmodern, American world; it is an urban landscape that has been drenched in the postmodern condition. For many decades, the idea of the American Dream captured the essence of the American society. It was and to some extent still is essentially a grand narrative that structures this society. In Brokeland, however, this American Dream does not hold much power anymore as the American Dream is unmasked as a predominantly white, capitalist project, a puritan project even in essence. The American Dream has to make way for the Brokeland Creole Dream, which is driven by a community ethos. It is based not just on peaceful coexistence, but on complete integration and assimilation. The Brokeland Creole Dream is the postmodern, utopian, multicultural answer to the problems America is facing today.nrpages: 168status: publishe

Topics: Postmodernism, Michael Chabon
Year: 2017
OAI identifier: oai:lirias2repo.kuleuven.be:123456789/588982
Provided by: Lirias
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