Net work : social networks, disruptive agency, and innovation in Howells, Fitzgerald, Heller, Pynchon, and Gibson

No Thumbnail Available
Johnson, Alfred B.
McBride, Kecia Driver, 1966-
Issue Date
Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
Other Identifiers

This study uses concepts from network science to analyze the agency of outsider characters who cause change or disruption without necessarily securing economic or political power for themselves. Network science as theorized by thinkers like Duncan Watts (Six Degrees, 2003) and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (Linked, 2002) explains social networks in terms of social structures: clusters of people, bridges between them, pathways through them. Michel Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge, 1971) suggests that new notions must enter public or personal awareness on "surfaces of emergence"—institutions like families and social groups. Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life, 1974) looks at inventive ways that users repurpose products, both industrial and cultural, and so become "secondary producers." To analyze the influential-outsider agency of the fictional characters featured in this study, I theorize the clusters, bridges, and pathways of network science as surfaces of emergence on which "secondary productions" can appear and then spread through a social network.The introductory chapter explores and explains the general application of network science to literary criticism. In subsequent chapters, I use a networks-based approach to examine the agency of William Dean Howells's Tom Corey (The Rise of Silas Lapham, 1884), F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby, 1925), Joseph Heller's Milo Minderbinder (Catch-22, 1961), Thomas Pynchon's Pierce Inverarity (The Crying of Lot 49, 1965), and William Gibson's Cayce Pollard (Pattern Recognition, 2003). These characters do unusual things with and from the subject positions in which they find themselves, and—whether or not they are or remain marginalized characters in their social systems—they are innovative and influential in ways that other characters do not understand or anticipate. All five novels depict the diffusion of innovative ideas and practices as a process of unplanned, non-coercive social negotiation, where innovation can originate with any person or group of people in the social network and is dependent on the complex interaction of liminal notions and mainstream thinking. The networking approach to these novels clarifies the ways that their authors have imagined social networks to function and the particular interactions they have imagined to lead to change or disruption.