Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Josephine N. Park

Abstract

This dissertation reads American and Asian American fictions that instigate feelings of discontent about American work. While literary scholars of white-collar work have examined anti-work sentiment as an unquestionably American phenomenon, they have yet to acknowledge the continuing global repercussions of the postwar American economy. I read transnational figures of work that query the ideology of American professionalism by mixing anti-work and anti-imperial feeling into the performance of white-collar work. Drawing from four forms of the novel that address a crisis of American domesticity—the postwar crime novel, the middlebrow travel novel, the multi-ethnic bildungsroman, and the post-9/11 finance novel—the dissertation reads low-grade, ambient affects, like anxiety or hesitation, to find a sideways reappraisal of a national work ethic. Minor feeling opens a new tendency in transnational American writing that I theorize as “counter-professionalism,” where the prefix “counter” produces multiple forms of resistance: Bartlebyian refusal, dilettantism, strategic negotiation, and reluctant conscription. This dissertation brings together sociological discourses of work, affect theory, and transnational American literature to hypothesize the rise of American Anglophone culture. The postwar crime novels of Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith provide a genealogical origin for the decline of the welfare state through the deviant work of the hard-boiled detective or the international conman. Meanwhile, rejecting American triumphalism for dilettantism and espiocracy, the internationalism of Richard Yates and Paul Bowles enters downward states of depression and acedia that disrupt the suburban novel. The turn to internationalism necessitates a consideration of the centripetal movement of Cold War immigration. The contemporary novels of Susan Choi and Jhumpa Lahiri reappraise the ignored case of postwar Asian American knowledge workers, where political feelings of evasion and willfulness unsettle the sociological trope of the model minority. The case of the foreign student reveals that the immigrant body is shunted into racialized forms of both manual and reproductive labor under the pretext of knowledge work. Finally, post-9/11 finance novels of Pakistani writers Mohsin Hamid and H.M Naqvi harken back to postwar criminality by confronting the accusation of terroristic subjectivity through feelings of regret, precipitating a comprehensive exit from American work.

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