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The Faust Myth in William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon: Postmodern Negotiations of Western Modernity

MOSCH, MATTHIAS (2012) The Faust Myth in William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon: Postmodern Negotiations of Western Modernity. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis examines the Faust myth in post-war American fiction, giving special consideration to works of William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon.

I present these works, which are underrepresented in broader studies of the literary tradition of the myth, as substantial contributions to the latter, while demonstrating how their thematic and stylistic proximity can be explained through their use of the myth itself. I thereby meet two desiderata: a location of Gaddis’s and Pynchon’s Faustiana in specific currents of twentieth-century intellectual history and a qualitative comparison between both authors against the background of postmodern mythography.

Locating their works in the tradition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann, I analyse how both authors employ the myth in order to satirise the underbelly of Western modernity. In turning the myth against the founding principles of America itself, they suggest that the vision of a New Eden has been a Faustian wager from the start. In doing so, they transform the image of the heretical soul-seller into that of a representative of the dominant forces of their time. Playfully demonising the reckless individualism, technicism, and voracious materialism of their contemporaries, they provide an astonishingly differentiated portrait of human self-aggrandisement that reverts into mechanisms of dehumanisation, a feat that is reflected in their manifest use of the works of Oswald Spengler, Max Weber, Eric Voegelin, Norman O. Brown, and Herbert Marcuse.

While Gaddis’s and Pynchon’s early novels remain a matter of negative theology in refraining from providing totalising suggestions as how to fare with the sold ‘soul’ of the West, I argue that these satirical disputes, via their use of apophaticism, indirection, and allusive complexity, convey a distinctly ethical message that speaks against the alleged nihilism and relativism of postmodern fiction.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Dec 2012 10:01

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