Date of Award

1995

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Carl Freedman

Abstract

By all accounts, the city has ceased to function as a cosmos, a coherent world which can offer meaning and validity to the lives of its inhabitants. If the ancient city presented the very image of order, the city since the advent of the Industrial Revolution has appeared to us as a jungle, a wilderness, a wasteland, an endless labyrinth--all images which suggest an essentially chaotic space, one which lacks any organizing principle or rationale. Moreover, if the city once offered the individual the greatest possible realization of his freedom, it now appears as the space in which he is most alienated, the space of a meaningless and unnoticed existence. Perhaps paradoxically, the demise of the city as an ordered world has coincided with the birth of the field of urban studies. However, in their search to discern a rational law which governs the processes of city development, urban theorists--with their overwhelmingly empiricist assumptions--have tended to simply reinforce the impression of chaos. It is finally the novelist--with his focus on the invisible life of the city--who seeks out the essential meaning of the modern city. Unlike the urban theorist, the novelist depicts the city not as a system which determines and delimits human existence but as a reality which is intimately bound up with human destiny itself. Fedor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Herman Melville's Pierre and William Faulkner's Light in August rediscover the city as the space of potentiality, as a dynamic reality which reflects the unfinalizability of human existence. Moreover, they show that the redemption of the modern individual lies not in his rejection of the city but in his reintegration with the human community that exists within it. In their themes and concerns, these novels find a paradigm in the Aeneid, Virgil's epic telling of the founding of Rome. Thus, they allow us to glimpse a continuity--which is typically unseen--between the ancient city and modern life.

Pages

255

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