“Structural dissatisfaction”: academics on safari in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad

Eve, Martin Paul (2014) “Structural dissatisfaction”: academics on safari in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. In: Invisible Circus: An International Conference on the work of Jennifer Egan, 22nd March 2014, Birkbeck College, University of London.

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Jennifer Egan's acclaimed 2010 novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, is a text populated by a disproportionately high number of, often unfulfilled, postgraduate researchers: “I'm in the PhD program at Berkeley”, proclaims Mindy; “Joe, who hailed from Kenya [...] was getting his PhD in robotics at Columbia”; “Bix, who's black, is spending his nights in the electrical-engineering lab where he's doing his PhD research”; while only Rebecca “was an academic star”. Indeed, in this text, academia seems a place of misery, of “harried academic slaving”, and, ultimately, of “immaturity and disastrous choices”.

In this paper, through a tripartite structure, I will examine the way in which Egan's experimental novel sits within a tradition of works that are critical of the university while simultaneously knowingly resting upon the academy's methods. In the first section, I will examine the characterisations of the text's academics and, to mirror the text's mocking discourse, their “structural” placement within the novel and especially in relation to sexuality. In the second section, I will briefly situate the work within a constellation of critical-university texts and authors, from the scornful remarks of several American postmodernists, through to Roberto Bolaño and David Foster Wallace, who is notoriously parodied in Goon Squad's Jules Jones. The final section, synthesizing these remarks, will ask whether this type of metafictional practice, in which an academic reader is acknowledged, itself plays a game of discourse control; a very academic manoeuvre.

While Egan does not, here, explicitly set her sights on the humanities and academic literary reading practices, the novel seems to anticipate its academic safari observers and warns them of the text's hungry lion, predominantly through parody. In fact, Egan's focus on specific areas of the university could be ventriloquized, as does the novel in a different context, thus: “I’d said something literally, yes, but underneath that I’d said something else”.

Keywords:Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:12398
Deposited On:20 Oct 2013 19:18

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