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Towards a definition of dirty realism Dobozy, Tamas

Abstract

This thesis develops and refines a term used initially by Bill Buford to refer to works of contemporary realism. Dirty realism characterises a strain of realism first appearing in American and Canadian writing during the 1960s and increasing in prominence through the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. The study focuses on the scholarship surrounding both the term and the works of particular authors, and applies the theories of Fredric Jameson and Michel de Certeau to develop a basic critical vocabulary for engaging the fiction and poetry of Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Mark Anthony Jarman, as well as other writers treated with less intensity, such as David Adams Richards, Helen Potrebenko, Al Purdy, and Bobbie Anne Mason. In particular, the dissertation attempts to develop a critical terminology through which to discuss dirty realist texts. The most prominent of such terms, the "hypocrisy aesthetic," refers to dirty realism's aesthetic of contradiction, discursive variance, and offsetting of theory against practice. The chapters of the dissertation deal with the emergence of the hypocrisy aesthetic through a study of literary genealogy, history, and theory. The second chapter, "Dirty Realism: Genealogy," traces the development of major currents in twentieth-century American realism, particularly naturalism. Arguing for dirty realism as a variant of naturalism, the chapter traces the transmission of ideas concerning dialectics, determinism, and commodity production from Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris, through James T. Farrell and John Steinbeck and ending with an extensive discussion of Charles Bukowski's Factotum. The third chapter, "Dirty Realism: History," addresses the impact of the Cold War on the development of dirty realism. Referring to major critics on the period, this section of the dissertation follows the development of hypocrisy as a form of discourse eventuated by Cold War contradictions, particularly between that of democratic freedoms proclaimed abroad and the atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia on the domestic scene (as—in the USA—in the HUAC hearings chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy).

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