Date of Degree

6-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Gerhard Joseph

Subject Categories

American Literature | Comparative Literature | Literature in English, North America

Keywords

attention, cognitive, cruft, genre, mega-novel

Abstract

Reading Cruft offers a new critical model in which to examine a genre vital to modern literature, the mega-novel. Building on theoretical work in both cognitive narratology and cognitive poetics, it argues that the mega-novel is primarily characterized by its inclusion of a substantial amount of pointless text ("cruft"), which it uses to challenge its readers' abilities to modulate their attention and rapidly shift their modes of text processing. Structured into five chapters respectively devoted to subgenres in which mega-novels have been grouped--the dictionary novel, the encyclopedic novel, the Menippean satire, the picaresque and frame-tale, and the epic and allegory--it demonstrates how these books make substantial use of their generic elements but also include text that fails to either fulfill or subvert their most crucial elements, rendering much of their text into excess that cannot be deeply processed. However, mega-novels also contain text that, though appearing to be cruft, is actually quite important, forcing readers to subtly distinguish between the text that does require deep attention and that which does not. This requires readers to develop more sophisticated procedures of attentional modulation in text processing. Reading Cruft argues that the education of attention this process prompts can aid readers in learning to manage the information overload that increasingly characterizes every aspect of contemporary life.

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