“Vivid tenuousness”: off the page and into the academy in the novels of Jennifer Egan

Eve, Martin Paul (2013) “Vivid tenuousness”: off the page and into the academy in the novels of Jennifer Egan. In: Literature off the Page, 16th November 2013, University of Sussex.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


Jennifer Egan's novels, The Invisible Circus, Look At Me, The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad are texts populated by a disproportionately high number of, often unfulfilled, postgraduate researchers and academics. In just the last of these novels: “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 novels sit 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 these texts' academics and, to mirror their often-mocking discourse, their “structural” placement within the novels. In the second section, I will briefly situate the works 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. This sociological leap from literature to the academy speaks of more than simply the influence of the Program Era that Robert McGurl charts but, instead, I will argue, a new mode for metafiction off the page.

Keywords:Jennifer Egan, Metafiction
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:12402
Deposited On:21 Oct 2013 14:18

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