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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 FOUR: The Masculine Mystique: Contextualising Masculinity within Spiritual Discourse in Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland and Wolfe’s A Man in Full 149

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149 CHAPTER 4 The Masculine Mystique: Contextualising Masculinity within Spiritual Discourse in Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland and Wolfe’s A Man in Full Postmodern society is often perceived as devoid of spiritual depth;1 however, it is a gross over-simplification to dismiss the depth of postmodern society so nonchalantly. Tom Wolfe has been aware of the burgeoning spirituality in contemporary America for decades, predicting a “Third Great Awakening” (qtd. in Nobile 97) in the 1970s, while John A. McClure characterises postmodern society as additionally “post-secular,” a situation that has interesting ramifica- tions for reading contemporary fiction, as often “contemporary American fiction captures and reflects this turbulent situation of spiri- tual engagement, uncertainty, and experimentation” (142). Tom Wolfe’s and Michael Chabon’s novels are situated directly within that turbulence. Both authors address contemporary spiritualities and, con- sequently, underscore the continued importance of the experience of, and understanding of the world through, the sacred in contemporary America. Interestingly, religious and mythical discourses have been abun- dant in the realm of gender discussion and the success of the mytho- poetic men’s movement in the 1990s stands as testament to this trend. Authors and would-be gurus have found a niche in the area of gender and have capitalised on increased uncertainty around gender identity to create a discourse that reverts to a form of gender essentialism, 1 John A. McClure argues that Fredric Jameson, Jean-François Lyotard and Brian McHale all characterise the moment in this way (141–142). 150 situating...

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