Idiographic spaces: Representation, ideology and realism in the postmodern British novel

Gordon B McConnell, Marquette University


This study investigates the role of intertextuality in the metacritical commentary and experimental form of self-reflexive, contemporary novels and postmodern narrative theory. This approach to contemporary literature's interrogation of the idea of representation and its inherent power places Hutcheon's theory of the contradictory poetics of Postmodernism in dialogue with Jameson's notion of the antinomic aesthetics of realist and modernist representation that informs experimental historiographic narration. Employing Kristeva's sense of an intertextuality beyond the mere imbrication of the literary artifact reveals discourses and non-discursive encodings which structure both mimesis and experimental techniques. The analysis of non-literary intertexts shows how they dominate narrative thematics and generate diverse forms of contradiction despite their largely covert nature, and manifest a desire to narrativize that which disciplines, institutions, theoretical discourses and cultural ideologies formally exclude from representation. Contradiction, principally discerned in contemporary metafiction as realist diegesis opposing figures of exclusion and negation, transliterates inter-referential theories of evolution and existentialism, fields of natural science and history, cultural traditions of religion, academia and the state, and the political ideologies of Marxism, capitalism and colonialism. Detailed readings of key intertexts in prominent novels draw upon metanarrative materials such as Lyotard's paradigm of narrative knowledge, Foucault's study of the modern episteme, Benjamin's analysis of dialectical images and White's theory of the disciplinization of historiography, complicating the widely held understanding that the parodic subversion of literary conventions is the driving force behind Postmodernism's radical intertextuality. While the extent to which modernist anti-representationalism seems to subjugate realism is said to signify generic confusion and epistemological relativity, or at best register postmodern nostalgia for an alienated historical referent, the analysis of embedded discourses exposes a penchant for bridging the representational aporia polarizing the world and the text which reconfigures the deconstructive zeitgeist recalled by self-conscious narrative intrusions and self-reflexive narrative devices. The initial chapter situates postmodern theories within the larger context of the upsurge of anti-representationalism across theoretical fields in the twentieth century. Subsequent chapters provide analyses of a wide variety of narrative thematics, locating idiographic spaces for aesthetic synthesis which interpolate the negated other of discourse with representational conventions.

Recommended Citation

McConnell, Gordon B, "Idiographic spaces: Representation, ideology and realism in the postmodern British novel" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3114989.