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Make Grammar Do: Grammar and Twentieth-Century American Literature

Boorman, Lola (2020) Make Grammar Do: Grammar and Twentieth-Century American Literature. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis explores the relationship between grammar and twentieth-century American literature. The introduction attempts to map out the many connotations that grammar holds, examining its relationship to national identity, pedagogy, democracy, cultural and linguistic standardisation, and literary criticism. My first chapter explores the connections between Gertrude Stein’s experimental work and the ideological paradoxes of the Harvard writing programme at the turn of the twentieth century, which was itself responding to social anxieties about immigration and national identity. In my second chapter I argue that Lydia Davis’s idiosyncratic fiction reflects and responds to a tumultuous period in America’s intellectual history, which, from Chomsky to Derrida, was dominated and defined by questions of language. In the midst of this ferment and the political upheaval of the 1960s liberation movements, Davis’s work draws on these contexts while continuously reaffirming grammar’s role in the ‘everyday’. In my final chapter, I explore how grammar opens up new ways of understanding David Foster Wallace’s aesthetic and political vision, viewing his key works in terms of the opposition between linguistic prescriptivism and descriptivism. By examining Wallace’s response to developments in formal linguistics, I argue that these contexts offer a key to understanding his ultimate reversion to standard English as a means of recuperating a sense of community and consensus in American society, even at the cost of marginalising the languages of sexual and racial difference.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Dr Lola Boorman
Date Deposited: 22 May 2020 15:44
Last Modified: 22 May 2020 15:44
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26506

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