Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Encyclopedic narratives, as conceptualized by Edward Mendelson, "attempt to render the full range of knowledge and beliefs of a national culture, while identifying the ideological perspectives from which that culture shapes and interprets its knowledge." The development of system paradigms in the sciences and humanities have shown that the complexity of the modern world-system preclude any such move towards totality. From this ideological shift in contemporary American culture, it follows that recent encyclopedic narratives incorporate these new dynamic perspectives. By applying systems paradigms to works by John Barth, Richard Powers, Annie Proulx, and Junot Díaz, the emergence of the epic encyclopedic narrative as a distinct form signifies the necessity of diversity, ambiguity, and noise in the operation of systems and the production of knowledge. Rather than presenting totalized representations of a culture, epic encyclopedic narratives represent the dynamic modern world-system by emphasizing the presence of the emergent phenomena, recursive symmetry, and noise that are central to complex systems theories. The work Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Ilya Prigogine, amongst others, posits that complexity spurs the development of increased order and organization in socio-cultural systems; epic encyclopedic novels incorporate this philosophy by subverting hegemonic ideologies (i.e., mythopoetic narratives) by introducing alternative and marginalized discourses that disrupt the status quo. The goal of an epic encyclopedic narrative is to revise or complicate the readers' perception of reality through discursive instruction. As such, these novels purposively introduce noise, such as data-dense passages of unfamiliar discourses, within the narrative to force the reader into discovering contexts needed to derive understanding. Ultimately, epic encyclopedic narratives argue that systems will become corrupted and stagnant if marginalized elements are not synthesized into a heterogeneous whole that recognizes individuality.
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