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Department of English Language and Literature

  • A pen on paper.

David Cowart's latest book focuses on writers coming to prominence in recent decades

"The Tribe of Pyn" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015) receives warm endorsements from scholars around the world

David Cowart's latest book, The Tribe of Pyn (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), concerns the idea of literary generations in the last half century, but the primary focus is on writers coming to prominence in recent decades. Are they, he asks, embracing an established postmodern aesthetic or striking out into new literary territory? In addition to a general introduction, he offers substantial readings of representative male, female, native American, and African American writers. By comparing literary figures born in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and later with those born in the 1920s and 1930s, he seeks to map the changing terrain of contemporary letters. Hardly epigones, the younger writers add fresh inflections, he argues, to the grammar of literary postmodernism. They seem not to labor under any disabling anxieties regarding originality as they carry forward the project begun by their immediate predecessors: defining a millennial America. From the vantage of the twenty-first century's second decade, one can advance the argument that younger writers—notably Richard Powers, Mark Z. Danielewski, Gloria Naylor, Chuck Palahniuk, Jennifer Egan, and Ann Patchett—can continue to "make it new" without needing to dismantle the aesthetic they have inherited from a parental generation. As they engage, resist, perpetuate, and redefine that aesthetic, however, these second- and third-generation postmodernists compose a rainbow spectrum of literary possibility—they promise to outpace the achievements of writers whose careers, however brilliant, are arriving at the terminus ad quem imposed by mortality.

Warm endorsements from scholars around the world:

"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

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