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Intimate Fractions of American Earth: Excavating the Frontier in Fictional Los Angeles, 1929-1953

Docherty, Michael Joseph (2020) Intimate Fractions of American Earth: Excavating the Frontier in Fictional Los Angeles, 1929-1953. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:80852)


This thesis proposes that fictions depicting Los Angeles between the onset of the Great Depression and the early 1950s reconstitute and interrogate historical notions of 'the frontier' as a conceptual framework with which to figure labour, masculinity, and race within spaces of urban modernity. Key texts explored include works by James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Frank Fenton, Chester Himes, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Hisaye Yamamoto. This thesis' methodology engages with the frontier's historiography, the material conditions of mid-century Los Angeles, theorisations of space drawn primarily from the works of Henri Lefebvre, and critical whiteness studies.

Established criticism typically claims that the defining paradigm of LA fiction in the 1930s and '40s is one of tragic continental finality, reflecting its era's fears that the 'closure' of America's western frontier had divested the nation of its ambitious and energetic character. My research challenges this orthodoxy by suggesting that circumscribed social horizons in these texts result not from any inability to perpetuate the frontier but from a collective failure to stop perpetuating it. This thesis thus fundamentally re-evaluates the contribution of LA's fiction to a post-Depression profusion of public discourses about the frontier's social legacies.

I locate the frontier within urban modernity by illustrating that dynamics of conflict within mid-century LA texts repeatedly invoke contemporary theorisations of the frontier's socio-spatial characteristics. Time and again in these fictions, intersecting conflicts of race, gender, and class difference are spatialised in ways that deploy the logics of the frontier. In illustrating these 'frontier dynamics', I also depart from the way in which much LA-focused cultural criticism reflects the city's vast scale by approaching its social contestations in terms of inter-neighbourhood difference, instead tracing the frontier's conceptual presence at a micro-level, within the subtlest gradations of fictional space.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Norman, Will
Thesis advisor: Stanfield, Peter
Uncontrolled keywords: Los Angeles, California, 20th century literature, American literature, American studies, frontier, Fante, Chandler, Cain, Turner, Himes, Fenton, Yamamoto, Hughes
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2020 13:10 UTC
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2023 23:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Docherty, Michael Joseph.

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