American aphorism : a genealogy of anti-foundational American literature.
Thesis DisciplineAmerican Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This study identifies a strain of American literature that resists integration into a progressive construction of the American mythos. The texts admitted under this lineage display a set of rhetorical strategies and paradigmatic concerns that are inherently aphoristic. Aphorism is the trope of the fragment. It breaks away from its context and slips out of time. At the same time, however, due to its radical logic, it also draws attention to its own construction and to the conditions that surround it. The literary texts studied here operate in this fashion and, in their extreme disruption of their cultural environs, foreground complex philosophical issues related to history and progress. It is against this canvas of foundational, and more importantly, anti-foundational, thought that this genealogy is composed. In this way, these aphoristic literary texts often act as speculative manifestations of contemporaneous philosophical crises, particularly those relating to the nature of representation and subjectivity. It is in these two fields that this study reaches most of its conclusions. However, the impact of these disruptive texts on the consideration of America is also investigated. The results of this enquiry reveal an often elided contingency between aphorism and the very genus of American rhetorical structures.