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On boredom and being saved Postmodern malaise and emancipation in the novels of Zadie Smith

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Description: The novels of Zadie Smith are rife with the conflict between reason and unaccountable desire, resulting in a struggle to find a sense of identity and direction in either Enlightenment-based rationalism or postmodernist diversity and experimentation. This overwhelming feeling of shiftless impotence reduces the denizens of Smith's London, New York, and New England to what can be described as state of chronic boredom. Though boredom is hardly a recent phenomenon, the kind of listlessness portrayed in Smith's novels is a condition peculiar to the postmodern era. Drawing upon relevant critical sources, I will posit the emergence of boredom as historically concurrent with the advent of liberal ideals such as freedom and progress, and illustrate the dilemma posed when a culture that contains unprecedented opportunity for distraction fails to provide meaning and substance. I will argue in this thesis that the tension between the emancipatory promise of progress and its concurrent side-effect of disenchantment provides a valuable heuristic for understanding the work of this highly influential contemporary author. Each of Smith's three novels--- White Teeth, The Autograph Man, and On Beauty ---will be analyzed in detail as I investigate the nature of this chronic boredom, explore its various manifestations, and interpret responses to the persistent confusion and frustration which drive the novels and give them substance. Further, I will show how boredom can act as a catalyst which causes other elements of postmodern theory---e.g. carnivalization, indeterminacy, fragmentation, and hybridization---to emerge and either heighten or alleviate this state of bored disenchantment.
Language: English
Format: Degree Work