Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Renee C. Hoogland


In Novelistic Intimacies, I consider the political and aesthetic structure of intimacy in a diverse set of narrative forms produced in the so-called digital age, or the late age of print—from encyclopedic and metafictional novels to graphic storytelling and Afrofuturist fantasy. As an organizing principle, intimacy forces us to consider, at once, how novelists have attempted to restore language and narrative with personal meaning after postmodernism—often termed New Sincerity or post-irony. At the same time, intimacy allows us to see how novelists have experimented on the materiality of the book and the eroticism of language to invent new, impersonal modes of storytelling in the present. In this way, I think about reading and writing in contemporary fiction affectively, as acting on both the body and the mind. This requires that I consider these novels as material objects in the world. How do they circulate? How and why do readers engage with and activate them in the present? I argue that, in the late age of print, readers have particular bodily, physical, and sensual orientations towards books themselves. In different ways, each of the novels chosen manipulates the reader’s orientation towards the book as an object as a fundamental component of their aesthetic practice. And, I argue that part of the reason these manipulations are effective is because of a broader history of the book and the ways in which deep-seated habits and memories coalesce around and inform how readers engage with books. In doing so, I examine the contemporary novel in the context of a longer history of the book as an erotic threat and/or tool, looking backwards to literary figures like Samuel Richardson, Walt Whitman, and W.E.B. Du Bois to illuminate the aesthetic techniques of these contemporary storytellers. Beginning with an interrogation of the unacknowledged homosocial intimacy between men staged by one of the popular originators of New Sincerity, David Foster Wallace, I develop an alternative account of literary production in the late age of print. Through close readings of the works of Wallace, his contemporary A.M. Homes, the graphic auteur Chris Ware, and #BlackLivesMatter activist Kiese Laymon, I analyze the ways in which intimacy—filtered through the categories of race, gender, and sexuality—undergird and determine the relationships between the reader, narrative, and the book.