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Fighting for a Common Culture: Literary Theory in the Age of Reagan

Kubis, Dan (2013) Fighting for a Common Culture: Literary Theory in the Age of Reagan. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation examines the possibilities for creating social change through literary criticism by focusing on three American critics: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Frank Lentricchia, and Edward Said. All three wrote politically minded literary criticism during the 1980’s and 1990’s, decades that witnessed a broad-ranging attempt to roll back the change and turbulence associated with the 1960’s. With regard to criticism, this attempt amounted to a challenge to literary theory, which was a radical way of thinking that crystallized in the 60’s and early 70’s and often carried revolutionary social hopes with it. As I suggest in the introduction, we are currently living in a moment in which the radical hopes fostered by literary theory co-exist uneasily with the counterrevolutionary movements of the 80’s: the hopes and impulses still exist, but they have no adequate social outlets. Looking back to the 80’s, I hope, will help clarify our moment, and possibly provide some resources for contemporary criticism.
My goal in each chapter is twofold: first, to understand the critic on his terms, second, to put the criticism in dialogue with another body of literary or critical work in order to suggest its broader ramifications. With Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I argue that his effort to move African American literature and criticism into the mainstream of American literary study led him to maintain a view of race as an essence. Comparing his critical work with Hortense Spillers’ proves this point, but also suggests that a more radical view of race remains in Gates’ work. Frank Lentricchia tried to base a political program on the intimate experience of pleasure that he felt when reading poetry. Putting Philip Roth in conversation with Lentricchia reveals the impossibility of Lentricchia’s program, but also a different and more socially productive path for Lentricchia’s interest in pleasure. Edward Said tried to create spaces in his criticism where antagonism could be overcome. Reading Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine (1989) next to Said suggests how useful Said’s model can be, but also reminds us that Said only suggested, rather than applied, this model in his work.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairArac,
Committee MemberBové, Paulbove@pitt.eduBOVE
Committee MemberScott, William Davidwdscott@pitt.eduWDSCOTT
Committee MemberWilliams,
Date: 1 July 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 April 2013
Approval Date: 1 July 2013
Submission Date: 26 April 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 187
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: Literary Theory, Frank Lentricchia, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Edward Said
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2013 14:00
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:12


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