Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level





Robert Cochran

Committee Member

Sean Dempsey

Second Committee Member

Vivian Davis


Death, Ecology, Formalism, Liminality, Postmodernity, Thing Theory


Walter Benjamin described history as a winged angel who faces backwards, staring perpetually into the past as the violent winds of destiny carry him into the future (Illuminations). Despite a western, post-enlightenment myth of eternal progress, the wreckage of human contributions to history is clearly evident in our 21st-century understanding of anthropogenic impact on global ecology. In the context of these ecological crises (and the resulting political and economic questions), postmodern novels reveal a powerful ability to imagine different ways of living and interacting with the world. This thesis traces the relationship between fragmentation, death, and liminal experiences through Frederick Buechner's Godric, Marilynn Robinson's Gilead, and Paul Harding's Tinkers. By imagining death as a khôral space, both of total openness and total otherness, our connectivity to the seemingly taut autre is revealed. Things thus take center stage, serving as fragmented but viable symbolons which reveal inherent connection and demand sustainable reciprocity. Fragmented narrative structures become symbolons of their own with potential ecological, ethical, and political consequences. Both the detonated forms and each novel's intimacy with impending death require readers to shift their lines of sight and consider the texts from the periphery. The shift to the margins has ethical potential as it encourages the reader to metadiscursively react to their own viewing, ordering, and objectifying practices. These novels begin to suggest new ways that we might, as William Carlos Williams wrote, "reconcile / the people and the stones."