The Only Crucial Clocks: Secular Time in the Contemporary American Novel Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Dill, Scott
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • In recent years, academic research has witnessed a resurgence of interest in the causes and effects of secularization. What makes a society secular? Who gets to define what is secular about secular values? While questions like these are being debated across the social sciences and humanities, the critical literature has yet to register how formal innovations in the contemporary novel think about secular values. How is the novel, one of secular modernity's most enduring cultural forms, addressing the experience of secular culture today? This dissertation argues that novels by Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith use the form and structure of the novel to explore the ethical values implied by a specifically secular concept of time. In their work, secular time is measured by the irreducible singularity of human experience, thus imbuing both figures of time and human experience with intrinsic cultural value. Neither magically enchanted nor rationally disenchanted, secular time is unique to the novel genre's ability to tell stories about people, especially long stories. Indeed, secular time in the contemporary novel is no shorter or longer than the time it takes to read a novel. Through its interminable plot structures and its ironic characterization, through its slow descriptions and narrative suspense, the contemporary novel construes its own unique portrayal of human experience as secular culture's only crucial clock.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Veggian, Henry
  • Ho, Jennifer
  • Armstrong, Nancy
  • Perrin, Andrew J.
  • Dore, Florence
  • Flaxman, Gregory
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2014
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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