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The novel of liberal lament: reading identity in novels by Atwood, Coetzee, DeLillo, McEwan and Morrison in the period of liberal ascendancy (1989-2008)

Lukey, Richard (2019) The novel of liberal lament: reading identity in novels by Atwood, Coetzee, DeLillo, McEwan and Morrison in the period of liberal ascendancy (1989-2008). PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis interprets a corpus of five novels and identifies a genre called the novel of liberal lament. The protagonists of Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005), Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride (1993), J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) and Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997) are all recognisably liberal figures facing the heterogeneity of the world. The period in which these novels are written is one I call the period of liberal ascendancy, in which liberalism increases its influence internationally, despite challenges to its value system. In order to investigate the novels’ engagement with liberalism in the period, this thesis develops and demonstrates a reading model. This model prescribes two related areas of attention. The first involves Bakhtin’s chronotope, which is defined in relation to his idea of dialogic identity formation. A close reading that concentrates on the time-spaces of the novels as sites of dialogic identity formation is followed by a consideration of the novels in light of Rawls’s concept of public reason. The Rawlsian concept of formal debate as the basis for a democracy provides a closer focus on specific forms of dialogue that are part of the liberal tradition’s political prescription for social construction. What emerges from the reading is a tension in liberalism in the period between what is achieved and what might have been achieved. The first part involves a historical dramatisation of a liberalism that is economically strong and interpersonally weak. The second part involves a lament for a liberalism that might instead have been economically weak and interpersonally strong. Just as classical liberal economics is ascendant in the period, the liberal tradition of debate fails, but the novels imagine ways in which reimagined forms of debate might have made liberalism more responsive to the complexity of the world in the period.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Mr Richard Lukey
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2020 23:49
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2020 23:49
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26796

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