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“The Same Authority as God”: The U. S. Presidency and Executive Power in the Works of Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy

ADDINALL-BIDDULPH, CHARLES (2015) “The Same Authority as God”: The U. S. Presidency and Executive Power in the Works of Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis aims to interrogate the role and representation of the United States presidency, presidential figures and avatars, and the question of executive power more generally, in the works of Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy. Observing a gap in current criticism of these authors, and American literature generally, I propose that the presidency/executive provides a new and important way of mapping these authors’ work. In this I seek to build on Sean McCann’s work on this area in A Pinnacle of Feeling. My project situates itself in a historical framework, investigating the extensive network of historical evidence that each author uses in their conception of and dialogue with the presidency and executive power. My argument takes Pynchon’s portrayal of George Washington, the United States’ semi-mythical first president, in Mason & Dixon as its starting point, then proceeds to consider a range of texts before finally discussing the presence of Ronald Reagan and the rise of corporate power in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. I posit that in each of these authors’ work, the executive power is present simultaneously as an embodied and a “phantom” force, shaping the narrative and subjective individual experiences even when characters are not expressly engaged in political activity. A complex relay between embodied and phantom forces is apparent, with the identity and even physicality of individual presidential figures and avatars substantially affecting the operation of this power, amid a nuanced dialogue with the nation’s historical narrative. This dynamic occurs across these authors’ work, although they have divergent political and literary approaches. This thesis aims finally to establish this framework of executive power as a fundamental aspect of these authors’ writing that is vital to understanding their thinking about the United States, its history, and socio-political context, which could ultimately be extended to many other cultural and literary texts and their producers.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"American literature";"Philip Roth";"Cormac McCarthy";"Thomas Pynchon";"presidency";"executive power";"modern literature";"United States of America";"politics"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:26 Oct 2015 15:02

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