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A Dangerous Fiction

Subverting Hegemonic Masculinity through the Novels of Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe

Louise Colbran

Masculinity is one of the key issues at stake in contemporary writing and gender studies. In their novels, Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe both consistently make masculinity a prominent thematic and ideological concern. This study is the first full length scholarly work to take their work and their treatment of masculinity as its focus. How do these American authors critique the representation of masculinity within popular culture in Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland, A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities? How do popular images of masculinity function for individual men and the way they experience their masculinities?
A Dangerous Fiction investigates the ways in which Chabon and Wolfe strip masculinity of any illusion of an essential nature and expose it as something highly culturally dependent and explains how these novels suggest to understand masculinity in the contemporary world.


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CHAPTER ONE: A Multiplicity of Selves: The Function of Authorial Celebrity and the Evaluation of the Author in the Novels of Chabon and Wolfe 23


23 CHAPTER 1 A Multiplicity of Selves: The Function of Authorial Celebrity and the Evaluation of the Author in the Novels of Chabon and Wolfe Ever since Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author (142– 148), academic criticism of literature has tended to focus on the reader, and his or her constitution as a social being, as an integral ele- ment in the creation of meaning in a text. However, it is also abun- dantly clear that despite Barthes’s revelation, there persists a great interest in the author of a text. Rather than the author’s intention, though, what holds the popular consciousness is the author’s celebrity. Both Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe personify very different types of celebrity and this image inevitably colours readings of their novels. In fact, the popular perception of the author becomes a crucial part of the social context in which the text is read. In Foucault’s terminology, “The author is […] the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning” (119). Wolfe’s novels, in particular, suffer constricting readings due to his celebrity. Both Wolfe and Chabon negotiate competing versions of author- ial celebrity. Wolfe is the more iconic of the two, his trademark white suits as recognisable as any of the texts he has written, but Chabon too has been set up in the popular media as a potential glamour-author. He has been identified by Graham Caveney as the dandy of his generation of writers (75) and...

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