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The Apocalypse Archive: American Literature and the Nuclear Bomb

Fest, Bradley J. (2013) The Apocalypse Archive: American Literature and the Nuclear Bomb. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation looks at global nuclear war as a trope that can be traced throughout twentieth century American literature. I argue that despite the non-event of nuclear exchange during the Cold War, the nuclear referent continues to shape American literary expression. Since the early 1990s the nuclear referent has dispersed into a multiplicity of disaster scenarios, producing a “second nuclear age.” If the atomic bomb once introduced the hypothesis “of a total and remainderless destruction of the archive,” today literature’s staged anticipation of catastrophe has become inseparable from the realities of global risk. Consequently, to understand the relationship between the archive of twentieth and twenty-first century disaster literature and the world risk society, my dissertation revitalizes nuclear criticism by emphasizing the link between the development of nuclear weaponry and communication technologies.

I read a group of writers for whom nuclear war functions more as a structural principle than as a narrative event. William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All (1923) is a significant precursor of a nuclear imagination distinct from a more general apocalyptic imagination. By imagining the destruction and reappearance of terrestrial life, Williams’s poem captures the recursive character of the nuclear imagination. I then address the relationship between the nuclear imagination, narrative, and the writing of history in the novels of Thomas Pynchon, and how his asymptotic engagement with nuclear war attempts to transform postmodernity’s sense of an ending. David Foster Wallace’s subsequent response in Infinite Jest (1996) to US metafiction’s apocalyptic atmosphere is transitional between the first and second nuclear ages, reconfiguring the archive from a target of destruction into a system capable of producing emergent disaster through accumulation. My dissertation thus draws together technologies of destruction and preservation, and shows them to be inseparable in twentieth and twenty-first century US literature.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Fest, Bradley
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairArac, Jonathanjarac@pitt.eduJARAC
Committee MemberLowenstein, Adamalowen@pitt.eduALOWEN
Committee MemberSmith, Philip E.psmith@pitt.eduPSMITH
Committee MemberSmith, Terrytes2@pitt.eduTES2
Date: 30 June 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 17 April 2013
Approval Date: 30 June 2013
Submission Date: 12 April 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 483
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Twentieth Century American Literature, Nuclear Bomb in Literature, Postmodernism, William Carlos Williams, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2013 19:26
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:11


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