Minding The Gap: Reading History With Joseph Conrad, Peter Weiss, And W. G. Sebald

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At the beginning of the twenty-first century the discipline of comparative literature faces the challenge of responding to expanding transnational readerships. Increasingly heterogeneous reading contexts not only highlight the need to extend comparative analysis to include formerly marginalized texts; they also challenge traditional analytical categories informing comparative literature as a discipline. This dissertation proposes that the notion of the implied reader, central to reader-response criticism based on hermeneutic conventions, has to be rethought in order to account for readers who cannot engage with a given text in an unimpeded relationship of dialogue; this is especially the case when literary texts revolve around histories of violence. Through an analysis of literary works by three European emigré writers, Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Peter Weiss (1916-1982), and W. G. Sebald (1944-2001), this study highlights postimperial, postgenocidal and post-Cold War reading positions that challenge the traditional hermeneutic sense of a textual horizon of understanding. The study further argues that comparative analysis of situated reading needs to go beyond constructivist notions of reading, which make it difficult to grasp relationships between literature and history. This analysis proposes instead that historical pressures in the twentieth century require comparative literature to address not only implied but also various unimplied and unwelcome reading positions that engage twentieth-century history in displaced yet material ways that manifest in literary form. The dissertation identifies a key stylistic feature in texts by three twentiethcentury authors whose work, by virtue of this feature, cuts across stylistic periods and national literatures. It analyses indeterminate narrative and historical linkages that suggest elusive yet pivotal relations between historical and cultural contexts that would not otherwise seem to belong together in any obvious sense. The analysis of these weak analogies demonstrates the need for renewed disciplinary attention to reading literature as a form of historical imagination that engages postgenocidal and postimperial legacies in both timely and untimely ways. This dissertation opens up new perspectives on relations between postcolonial critique and transnational analysis of European literatures beyond a traditional focus on Western European canonical literatures and hermeneutics, and beyond the putative binary between West and non-West.

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Adelson, Leslie Allen

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Lacapra, Dominick C
Melas, Natalie Anne-Marie

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Comparative Literature

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Ph. D., Comparative Literature

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Doctor of Philosophy

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