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Ideology and Symbolism in the Novels of Cormac McCarthy
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Language, Literature and Intercultural Studies (from 2013).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7075-6001
2020 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study homes in on the ideological significance of American author Cormac McCarthy’s literary symbolism. Focusing in particular on the author’s tendency to merge hu­manity and the environment by way of metaphor, simile, and personifica­tion, the study demonstrates how the ethical and political import of this aesthetic is open to dispute. Some critics have celebrated McCarthy’s environmen­tal imagination as an opportunity for the reader to cultivate a more re­sponsible way of being in the world, some have criticized it as a relativiza­tion of human agency, and some have retooled it into a political commen­tary designed to challenge late capitalist reification. Acknowledging the validity of many of these readings, but also stressing their insufficiency, the study suggests—with support from the autoreferential aspects of the author’s later novels—that McCarthy’s symbolism may be made to resonate with many contrasting sentiments at once. By realizing different aspects of the novels’ various affordances, that is, their multiplicity of po­tential uses, critics have been able to think of McCarthy either as a pro­gressive or a conservative writer. Basing its reasoning on this finding, and drawing on the Marxist perspective of Pierre Macherey, the study makes the claim that a literary work never produces meaning on its own and that the role of the critic is never entirely apolitical.

Abstract [en]

Ever since the publication of his debut novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), Cormac McCarthy has explored the relationship between humanity and the environment. In his early novels, this exploration takes the form of a symbolist aesthetic that repeatedly employs metaphor, simile, and personification to merge humans with the rest of the world’s matter. The ethical and political import of this aesthetic is, of course, open to dispute: critics have alternately celebrated McCarthy’s environmental imagination as an opportunity for the reader to cultivate a more responsible way of being in the world, criticized it as a relativization of human agency, and retooled it into a political commentary designed to challenge late capitalist reification. Entering into dialogue with this conflicted critical discourse, and tracing the development of McCarthy’s writing over five decades, Svensson’s dissertation reveals an author whose later novels appear to acknowledge their own capacity to resonate with many ethical and political sentiments at once. Further, drawing in particular on the Marxist perspective of Pierre Macherey, the dissertation also makes the more general claim that a literary work never produces meaning on its own and that the role of the critic is never entirely apolitical.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstad: Karlstads universitet, 2020. , p. 216
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2020:13
Keywords [en]
Cormac McCarthy; Pierre Macherey; Marxism; ideology; affordances; symbolism; ecocriticism
National Category
Languages and Literature
Research subject
English
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-76800ISBN: 978-91-7867-096-3 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7867-106-9 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-76800DiVA, id: diva2:1393867
Public defence
2020-03-27, 1B 309 Sjöströmsalen, Universitetsgatan 2, 651 88 Karlstad, Karlstad, 13:15 (English)
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Supervisors
Available from: 2020-03-06 Created: 2020-02-17 Last updated: 2020-03-06Bibliographically approved

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Svensson, Fredrik

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