Compromise Aesthetics: Literature After Experimentalism


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This study is an inquiry into the fate of radical literary form in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a period that many scholars see as marked by increasing compromise between experimental and mainstream approaches to literature. It argues against this prevailing narrative, finding that contemporary literary works continue to be invested in undermining mainstream expectations, albeit in ways that might be difficult to recognize if we think that radical formal gestures always require the kind of sweeping rejection of convention associated with modern and postmodern experimentalism. Through readings of work by writers including Heidi Julavits, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Rachel Kushner, Ben Lerner, and Percival Everett, and drawing from diverse fields of study including political theory, ecology, and biology, the project ultimately asks what the waning of an avant-garde impulse might mean for critical concepts of aesthetic change.