Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

James F. English

Abstract

This dissertation reads contemporary Anglophone novels as a technology for managing the temporal (dis)order of the Anthropocene. I label five temporal categories that inform the four chapters and the coda making up the dissertation: 1) a speculative imperative, 2) species time, 3) geo-cosmic time, 4) the premodern contemporary, and 5) the end of time. I pay attention to certain types of novels, and I promote a specific and timely mode of writing. I read recent prose and graphic “multitemporal” novels by contemporary authors from the US (Jennifer Egan and Richard McGuire), England (David Mitchell and Jeanette Winterson), Canada (Claire Cameron), and Scotland (Ali Smith). These are neither only historical nor entirely speculative, but time-travelling, dual-narrative, multi-period, or post-era works of fiction that multiply times and scales and narratives. Collectively, they wed the present to several historical, prehistorical, cosmic, and speculative temporalities, thus manifesting ways in which the Anthropocene disrupts our experience of time, adds to our temporal imaginary, expands it, or mixes multiple temporal registers and scales, and ultimately changes the dimensions of what we deem our contemporary.

The Anthropocene is an ecological crisis just as it is a new geological epoch, and its temporal disorientations stand as major impediments to political, ethical, intellectual, emotional, and agential engagement with this crisis. By enlisting certain kinds of novels to navigate the Anthropocene times, this dissertation in turn promotes literary form as a mode of environmentalism, and it aims to contribute to a turn from genres and themes in ecocritical studies to an attention to time and the affordances of narrative form. Environmentalism in this dissertation goes beyond traditional environmental concerns with a specific place or problem, and it rather points to a newly urgent need for thinking differently about time and across times, including attention to evasive patterns of environmental time.

Embargoed

Available to all on Sunday, September 14, 2025

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