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“And Now Here is the Unreal Real”: The Transformation of American Realisms, 1892-1925

  • Author(s): Mehlman, Gabriel
  • Advisor(s): North, Michael
  • Seltzer, Mark
  • et al.
Abstract

At the turn of the century, we see American literary realisms that become increasingly autopoeitic—that generate themselves from their own components, that keep on referencing themselves, and entering themselves back into themselves. And they are self-reflexive realisms that see themselves—both their worlds and their rhetoric—and are stunned by what they see, and do not quite understand what they see. These realisms are fascinated with their own form, specifically the uncannily animated linguistic figuration that fissions off from mimesis to build the very world in which mimesis is visible. The fictions remain representationally grounded in mimesis, but try to determine the rhetoric that might figure a world in which what they must name and how they might name that are changing. At the level of plot, we see small-scale dramas—accidents within small groups, social visits throughout a small town, family and professional disputes. Yet these realisms observe their world and its language changing in astonishingly uncanny ways, and become fascinated with a reflexive speculation on their own generic and medial fate. This is the strange new landscape of turn of the century realisms that this dissertation discovers and maps.

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