Tragic America: Terror, Metaphor, and the Contemporary American Novel
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Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the literature of the United States has become increasingly concerned with telling tragic stories. While the literature written about the attacks is considerable and operates as the climax in this dissertation, the literature of the ensuing decade has been marked by a return to tragic terror more broadly. A distinct feeling of anxiety and fear continues to animate a strong tragic tradition in the contemporary novel. Through an analysis of motifs, figures, and metaphors derived from classical dramatic sources and the attendant philosophical tradition, this dissertation investigates the complex formal processes through which tragic American lives occur and their political contexts. This dissertation argues that American literary production in the first decade of the twenty-first century requires a critical return to the so-called Myth and Symbol School that inaugurated American Studies and established an American literary tradition with New England Transcendentalists. Emerson’s claim that America must be made great through and by its ability to perceive “the terror of life” resonates in today’s post-9/11 political and economic climate. This study illuminates the ways that the contemporary novelists have seen fit to incorporate classical tropes and narratives into traditional stereotypes of identity and nationhood. Linguistic life, it might be said, directly influences political life. Tragic America is an aggregation of tragic manifestations that finds political extensions and interpretive applications through provisional and figurative relationships. Relationships negotiated through this metaphoric sensibility are, I believe, the only honest means of comparison in our radically heterogeneous culture.