Epistemological provisionality as a generic feature of the British novel
Conley, Marcus (2011) Epistemological provisionality as a generic feature of the British novel. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.
This thesis attempts to identify a particular epistemological stance as a trans-historical generic feature of the British novel, seeking theoretical commonalities across readings of four novelistic texts. Drawing upon conventional critical reliance on realism as a definitive feature of the novel, chapter one examines the dialectical interplay of empiricism and scepticism in the intellectual climate and public discourse of eighteenth-century Britain as an influence on realistic literary modes and proposes that the novel as a genre is preoccupied with problems of epistemology. Chapter two considers Jane Barker’s Galesia trilogy as an example of novelistic engagement with a common theme in the empiricism/scepticism dialectic: the epistemological complications entailed by individual subjectivity. Barker’s thematic emphases on uncertainty, multiplicity, and fallenness coincide with a generically entrenched, and thus novelistic, orientation toward open-endedness and unfinalizability, as articulated in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Chapter three associates realism with mimesis, a figure whose tendency toward duplicity and reversibility align it with Jacques Derrida’s concept of pharmakon. Mimesis-as-pharmakon is considered in the context of Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Roderick Random. Chapter four shifts critical focus to contemporary fiction -- Martin Amis’s Money: A Suicide Note -- and examines how postmodernist literary techniques, particularly the metafictional inclusion of an author figure, reiterate the novelistic portrayal and exemplification of epistemological provisionality that underlies eighteenth-century texts. Chapter five, with analysis of Ian McEwan’s Saturday and reference to the philosophy of Iris Murdoch, suggests that the problems of knowledge entailed by situated individual subjectivity, as represented by the novel, privilege a corresponding ethical posture of deference and openness to the other. In an afterword, these ethical implications are extended to suggest a possible political significance to the genre.
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