Beyond Subversion: Raising Doubt Through Ancient Scripture in Contemporary Novels

Frank, Nathan, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Shukla, Sandhya, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Hart, Kevin, AS-Religious Studies (RELI), University of Virginia
Booth, Alison, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia
Rody, Caroline, AS-English (ENGL), University of Virginia

“Beyond Subversion” argues that contemporary postmodern novels raise doubt through their invocations, reimaginations, and emulations of ancient scriptures, and further, that the doubt raised by these novels is a positive literary development that extends to cultural and political as well as philosophical and theological discourse. While subversion effectively overturns the hierarchies of dualist narratives, doubt takes resistance beyond subversion by pulling narratives out of unnecessarily violent yet hegemonically enforced opposition. That postmodern novels can inaugurate such a reconciliation project is a function of the textual and modal hybridity that obtains when they recruit religious language to counteract the fundamentalist narratives shaping our institutions – it is what I am calling a retro-realist (or, in the cases of Song of Solomon and The Satanic Verses, retro-magical realist) form that appeals aesthetically if also counterintuitively. A prologue provides context regarding my dissertative commitments while also defining the keywords in my title. My introductory chapter sets the stage with what I call a macro tutor text because I read Lydia Millet’s A Children’s Bible as doubting at the highest possible level. From there, the novels explored in my first chapter are E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, both of which invoke scripture to doubt canonical national historical narratives in America. In my second chapter, I explore apocryphal reimaginations of canonical scripture in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, novels that doubt the premises of a triumphalist posthistoricism that erases the possibility of meaningful disagreement in favor of difference. My third chapter takes Adam Levin’s The Instructions and Doctorow’s City of God as apocryphal emulations of canonical scripture that doubt the metaphysical perfection of the divine. Finally, my epilogue makes the case for a post-subversive literary future by exploring contemporary theory’s uses of scriptural rhetoric to suggest that Haraway’s cyborg may reverently resist a new enemy: the mis-informatics of domination.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
contemporary fiction, novels, scripture, deconstruction, new materialism, object-oriented ontology (OOO), narrative theory, Global Anglophone, feminist theory, textual modality

Elements of this dissertation's second chapter are forthcoming as “The Avatar Dynamic: Cognitive Conditions in Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses” in Unorthodox Minds: Innovative Exchanges Between Cognitive Studies, Narrative Theory and Contemporary Fiction. Eds. Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Klara Teske. A version of this dissertation's third chapter is forthcoming as "Mystical Emulations, Inverted Echoes: 'Adonai Is Mistaken' and the 'God Minus' Reinterpretation of Nietzsche" in CR: The New Centennial Review. Special Issue, "Religion in the 21st Century." Ed. Morgan Shipley.

Issued Date: