Book cover for 'The Tribe of Pyn'
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The Tribe of Pyn

Literary Generations in the Postmodern Period
David Cowart
A study of generational inheritance, engagement, and cross-fertilization in the landscape of literary postmodernism


In The Tribe of Pyn, Cowart offers illuminating readings of several important novelists now at the height of their powers, whose work has received fairly limited scholarly attention thus far. Jonathan Franzen, Alice Walker, David Foster Wallace, Gloria Naylor, Richard Powers, and a raft of others are examined with lapidary care. Wrestling with the challenges inherent to distinguishing generational character (especially in the postmodern context, which is often marked by its disavowal of ideas of origin, etc.), Cowart teases out interactions and entanglements that help illuminate the work of the younger writers at the center of this study and also that of the trailblazers on its ragged frontiers.

By comparing literary figures born in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and later with those born in the 1920s and 1930s, Cowart seeks to map the changing terrain of contemporary letters. Hardly epigones, he argues, the younger writers add fresh inflections to the grammar of literary postmodernism. Younger writers can continue to “make it new,” Cowart establishes, without needing to dismantle the aesthetic they have inherited from a parental generation.

“Cowart has uncovered an entire underground system of roots for the whole garden, and we get to see where these roots run, how they intersect, which go deep into the past and which run just under the surface. One feels that a lifetime of research was necessary to produce a book like this, and one does not often see its like.”
—Kathryn Hume, Pennsylvania State University

“Cowart’s impressive and insightful knowledge of literary history shows again to reveal many hidden aspects of contemporary fiction. The Tribe of Pyn connects an outstanding volume of rhetorical devices, classic myths, and modern sources to help readers value in all its complexity the literary path taken by the younger generations of American postmodern fictionists.”
—Francisco Collado-Rodríguez, University of Zaragoza

“Cowart’s powerful The Tribe of Pyn displays an admirably fine sense of literary style, inviting us to understand contemporary writers (from Rachel Ingalls to Jennifer Egan) as a literary generation that is heir to a specific postmodern legacy (Pynchon’s, DeLillo’s, McCarthy’s) and has a future so bright you gotta wear shades.”
—Philipp Schweighauser, University of Basel

“In The Tribe of Pyn, David Cowart brings his critical discrimination to bear on the question of the afterlives of Pynchon’s and DeLillo’s postmodernism. Reading select novels from Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban to Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Cowart offers a compelling picture of the contemporary postmodern novel. Cowart’s book is theoretically sophisticated and astute; but this is not primarily a theoretical argument. Rather, it proceeds, in Cowart’s now well-established fashion, by paying the closest attention to the ways in which novels think and to the way that fiction shapes and produces ideas rather than simply reflecting theoretical trends. The result is one of the wisest and most considered accounts of the contemporary novel that we have.”
—Peter Boxall, University of Sussex

“In the maze of literary works of our time—in this ‘city of words’—everybody needs a guide, an erudite intellectual who can throw light on the seemingly inscrutable and incomprehensible works; who can, with a few strokes of his pen, elucidate fuzzy ideas and make patterns emerge from chaos. David Cowart, in this collection of essays on recent American fiction, does all that in a lively, brilliant manner. In the ten engaging, informative, and inspiring chapters which make up this book, Cowart discusses the work of writers who belong to the second and third generation of postmodernists. At the same time, the author explores the more general issue of the relationship between one generation of writers and the next one. Over half a century after the great masters of postmodernism debuted, what is the current condition of this aesthetic? Cowart’s analysis demonstrates how some writers do not merely continue the tradition but rather breathe new life into postmodernist writing, as they redefine and reinvent it without succumbing to the danger of postmodernism becoming ‘an aesthetic ripe for passage into mannerism.’”
—Zygmunt Mazur, Jagiellonian University

Cover: Picta poesis: Ut pictura poesis erit. (© Barthe┬┤lemy Aneau, 1561. Public Domain. Courtesy of Duke University.)

David Cowart is the Louise Fry Scudder Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina.

Praise / Awards

  • "Cowart surveys ten novels published at the turn of the twenty-first century to elucidate how the notion of generation shapes theoretical continuities and challenges to the postmodern novel and author."
    --American Literature

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Product Details

  • 270 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12144-1

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