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"Structural dissatisfaction": the role of academics in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad

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  • Q320 English Literature
  • Engineering
  • Literature


Jennifer Egan's novels, The Invisible Circus, Look At Me, The Keep and A Visit from the Goon Squad are texts populated by a disproportionately high number of, often unfulfilled, postgraduate researchers and academics. In just the last of these novels: “I'm in the PhD program at Berkeley”, proclaims Mindy; “Joe, who hailed from Kenya [...] was getting his PhD in robotics at Columbia”; “Bix, who's black, is spending his nights in the electrical-engineering lab where he's doing his PhD research”; while only Rebecca “was an academic star”. Indeed, in this text, academia seems a place of misery, of “harried academic slaving”, and, ultimately, of “immaturity and disastrous choices”. In this paper I will examine the way in which Egan's experimental novels sit within a tradition of works that are critical of the university while simultaneously knowingly resting upon the academy's methods. While Egan does not, here, explicitly set her sights on the humanities and academic literary reading practices, the novel seems to anticipate its academic safari observers and warns them of the text's hungry lion, predominantly through parody. This sociological leap from literature to the academy speaks of more than simply the influence of the Program Era that Mark McGurl charts but, instead, I will argue, a new mode for a re-empowered metafiction.

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