Date of Graduation

5-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Marvin Booker

Committee Member

Robert Cochran

Second Committee Member

William Quinn

Keywords

Authenticity, Cyberpunk, Mobility, Picaresque Fiction, Postcyberpunk, Science Fiction

Abstract

This dissertation examines the crisis of authenticity in postmodern culture and argues that contemporary science fiction, specifically the subgenre of Movement SF, has evolved a unique answer to this crisis by adopting, perhaps spontaneously, the picaresque narrative structure. Postmodern fiction has a tenuous relationship with the issue of authenticity, such that the average postmodern subject is utterly without true authenticity at all, alternately victim to the socioeconomic conditions of his or her culture and to the elision of the self as a result of the homogenizing effects of advertising, television, etc. Postmodern SF also carries this bleak perception of the possibility of agency; William Gibson's Sprawl and Bridge trilogies are rife with negations of human agency at the metaphorical hands of various aspects and incarnations of what Fredric Jameson terms the "technological sublime." This dissertation puts forth the argument that a group of post-Eighties SF texts all participate in a spontaneous revival of the picaresque mode, using the picaresque journey and related motifs to re-authenticate subjects whose identity and agency are being erased by powerful social and economic forces exterior to and normally imperceptible by the individual. This dissertation is organized around three loosely connected parts. Part 1 attempts to define Movement SF by separating the various, often confusing marketing labels (such as cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, etc.) and extracting a cluster of core characteristics that have shaped the genre since its inception in the early 80s. Part 1 further examines how these core characteristics (or premises) of Movement SF provide fertile ground for picaresque narrative strategies. Part 2 describes in detail the picaresque as it appears in Movement SF, examining worldbuilding strategies, the persistence and evolution of tropes and motifs common to the traditional picaresque, and the generation of new tropes and motifs unique to Movement picaresques. Part 3 examines the spatial tactics used in Movement picaresque narratives to enable picaresque marginality in totalized, globalized environments. Furthermore, Part 3 examines the use of psychological plurality as an internal tactic to escape closed environments.

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