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Since his death in 1951 and the posthumous publication of the Philosophical Investigations in 1953, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life and work have been a subject of intense fascination for poets, novelists, and playwrights. Wittgenstein’s signature approach to writing as a mode of discovery – of writing as philosophical investigation – factors into and emerges out of the literary response to his life and work. That response takes many forms, from a quick reference or veiled allusion to parodic imitation to more extended, complex, or subtle forms of inspiration, influence, or acknowledgment. After examining a number of uses of Wittgenstein’s work in texts by mid-twentieth-century authors (Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, Don DeLillo, Thomas Bernhard, David Markson), ones that construe the philosopher as alternately a logical positivist or a silent mystic, the chapter turns to more contemporary, twenty-first-century responses to Wittgenstein by authors including Maggie Nelson, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis, Ben Lerner, Nicholas Mosley, W. G. Sebald, David Foster Wallace, and Amiri Baraka. These more contemporary literary responses to Wittgenstein are less uniform in their references to the man and his work but more diverse in their use of Wittgenstein’s concepts, arguments, or writings, particularly from the later philosophy.
The category of Civil War literature is not bounded by historical designation or lived experience; instead, this genre encompasses a broad range of reflections and reconstructions concerning the legacy imparted by the war. Beginning with the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, contemporary evaluations of the civil rights movement mobilize competing logics of Civil War memory. These versions of Civil War memory take shape in both personal and political registers, the subjective nature of which simultaneously confounds and perpetually renews understandings of the past. Three developments occurred in the 1950s and 1960s that brought such contradictory remembrance to light: the desegregation of public schools via Brown v. Board of Education, the commemoration of the Civil War’s centennial anniversary, and the deaths of the last remaining Civil War veterans. This final event characterizes the relevant work produced in both the civil rights movement and our contemporary moment, as writers continuously work to preserve, alter, or resist their ancestors’ history in ways informed by the interests and conflicts of the present.
This chapter provides an overview of the novel of ideas that contrasts the form with Henry James’s modernist conception of the art novel. Ian McEwan writes exemplary novels of ideas insofar as his works incorporate political, philosophical and above all scientific ideas even as they develop formal, stylistic and aesthetic complexity. After discussing Or Shall We Die? and The Ploughman’s Lunch, the chapter examines four novels: Black Dogs, Enduring Love, Saturday and particularly The Child in Time. McEwan’s novels of ideas consistently explore and demonstrate unexpected capabilities of the genre. They unfold the drama and texture of their ideational content, from the level of plot device and set piece down to that of lexical units. Ideas animate but never overwhelm aesthetics. McEwan’s novels of ideas explore the capacities and capabilities of scientific inquiry and literary representation even as they ultimately reveal the limits of both.
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