The Use of Literature, and in Particular, an Original Novel Entitled Ariachne's Thread, as a Vehicle for the Expression of Philosophical Ideas Concerning Authenticity at the Margins of Society

Washington Irving, Salve Regina University


This dissertation argues for the possibility of literature, and in particular the novel, as philosophy. It recognizes the distinction between the two but argues that the novel form, with its inherent play of language—its use of tropes, its polylogogical stance, punning, polysemy, catachreses, aporias, equivocations, etc. within a fluid daedalic narrative leads inevitably to an ironic stance, questioning the very ground on which we stand; that is, a visceral understanding of ever changing vocabularies in which no one sees his or her vocabulary as fixed or ontological but rather contextual, ironic and ever changing; one in which no one vocabulary holds a ‘true’ view of infinite vision; what Donna Haraway refers to as the “god trick,” the “conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway, “Situational Knowledges,” 581–590) and thus offers a more open-ended, de-ontological perspective than philosophy proper. The dissertation argues that fiction asks for the language to be deconstructed, re-made, re-contextualized, remaining fluid, slippery and vital. “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock,” says J. Hillis Miller. The dissertation first presents the theory behind and within the defense of the novel as philosophy. It sets the stage for the thesis by playing off of the dominant and at times dominating, modern linguistic theories, particularly deconstruction, and argues that literature has always been modern as far back as the ancient Greeks. By taking a de-constructive approach, language becomes more expansive and less able to be pinned down, thus negating the metaphysical pre-Nietzschean in favor of the modern. There are greater possibilities for uncovering the truths that are hidden in the language of the text. The dissertation moves from the linguistic to the narrative elements that make up the text of the novel. It argues that not only does the author slip away, negating himself in the fluid nature of the narrative, but that a monological text in the sense of coming from one mind is in itself an impossibility. There is rather “an implicit multiplying of the authorizing source of a story,” what J. Hillis Miller refers to as polylogology. Intentionality becomes secondary as language and narrative become predominant. The narrative becomes neither writer nor text but hybrid in which the actor/actant relationship to the agent/goal as described by Bruno Latour is in this dissertation conflated with the writer/text relationship as described by J. Hillis Miller to create a multi-contextual, ironic text. The dissertation argues that in fiction, Richard Rorty’s ironic stance is a kind of permanent parabasis. In narrative, it stands outside of itself, refers back to itself as in an allegorique de lui même, commenting on itself, questioning itself, always at odds with what it is saying, calling attention to its alterior meaning at all times. Never at home, constantly shifting its vocabularies, its contingent truths, through the paradigmatic associations embedded in its signs. The dissertation’s defense substantiates its theoretical claim regarding the value of literature in uncovering or discovering philosophy in the postmodern age by applying it in the completion of Ariachne’s Thread, an original novel that speaks directly to these issues, using them within the novel form itself. Thus, I will have a theory and a proof of that theory.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Comparative literature|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Irving, Washington, "The Use of Literature, and in Particular, an Original Novel Entitled Ariachne's Thread, as a Vehicle for the Expression of Philosophical Ideas Concerning Authenticity at the Margins of Society" (2019). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI13858356.