Date

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Fifer, Elizabeth

Other advisers/committee members

Foltz, Mary; Lotto, Ed; Matthews, Rick

Abstract

As described by Jean Lyotard and Fredric Jameson, the present postmodern era is one in which transcendent narratives have been revealed as culturally constructed and hegemonic. In this postmodernity, people often feel a loss of history and meaning, as, according to Jameson, the very concept of an individual subject is called into question. Finding meaningful agency in such a world seems, at times, impossible. There is a received cultural assumption of powerlessness and meaninglessness that can be demonstrated metaphorically as zombies or bands of survivors wandering a post-apocalyptic world. This study looks at activist authors in the postmodern era, starting with the post-apocalyptic metaphor in Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It then examines the contingency of historical narrative in the post-historical novels The Book of Daniel, by E. L. Doctorow and The Public Burning, by Robert Coover. Finally, it focuses on the paradox of transformation in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. These authors metaphorically create the post-apocalyptic postmodern condition in different ways, yet all present the problem of finding meaningful agency within that condition. Applying the concept of contingency, rather than randomness, to postmodern existence, these works demonstrate meaningful agency in free contingent action. The postmodern condition has liberated characters from transcendent narratives, and the acting on that liberation allows for individual transformation from postmodern object (zombie) to individualized subject (human), and allows social transformation from masses to multitudes. Meaningful agency exists through the act of resistance itself.

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