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The Texte Fleuve and Infinity: The Play of Finitude and Endlessness in Proust, Woolf, and the Open World Video Game

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This dissertation examines the impulse — explicit in some texts, and at work in all — to go beyond endings and encompass the infinite. It describes and elucidates the category of the texte fleuve: those texts, regardless of their media, that most clearly foreground, operationalize, and adumbrate the infinitude shown to be at work in and among all texts by theorists such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. In the text fleuve, I include both canonical (print) works of “high” literature and works more commonly thought of as popular culture artifacts. Along with Proust’s Recherche, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, I examine “open world” video games (in particular, Mojang AB’s Minecraft and Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

In my chapters, I consider the theoretical issues surrounding the texte fleuve and lay out its characteristics, notably the various “endlessnesses” that it depicts or enacts (such as looping narratives, potentially infinite combinations of elements, endless networks, unlimited extension in time and virtual space, and so on). In tandem with my examination of these endlessnesses, I discuss the ludic aspect of the act of reading, this aspect being part of why novels and games can elucidate each other. My argument is based on a conception of reading as an interactive process that is never a passive act of consumption. Following the work of Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois and Barthes, I claim that reading is a process with rules, the primary one being to find meaning.

I also explore the text’s relationship with what I call the “circumtext,” a work’s networked assemblage of textual responses (readings, rewritings, adaptations, translations, etc). This network, its growth driven by something like the infinite potentiality of Barthes’ “writerly,” prolongs the “central” work through a process of translation, and thus helps the work to resist its inevitable finitude, its own forgetting, its own death.

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