by Patrick O'Donnell
University of Iowa Press, 1986
Paper: 978-1-58729-495-2 | Cloth: 978-0-87745-138-9 | eISBN: 978-1-58729-171-5
Library of Congress Classification PS374.S44O36 1986
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.5409

This absorbing new study discusses theories of interpretation and construction of the self in six important contemporary novels. In semiotic analyses of John Barth's LETTERS, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, John Hawkes' Travesty, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Stanley Elkin's The Franchiser, and Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, Patrick O'Donnell argues that contemporary fiction takes interpretation as its subject and as the very impetus for its making.

In an introductory dialogue and a closing chapter on the reader in contemporary fiction, O'Donnell shows that the formation of the reader's self, like character, plot, or any other element in fiction, is also part of the experience of the text, requiring a distinctive conception of interpretation. Calling upon a wide assemblage of modern theorists including Foucault, Derrida, Serres, Binswanger, Geertz, and Gadamer, O'Donnell elicits a broad range of interpretive possibilities—philosophical, psychological, archaeological, and linguistic—which speak to each novel's central concern with the act of reading as a form of signification.

While Passionate Doubts is broadly a hermeneutic study of contemporary fiction, the heart of this intriguing work resides in the close scrutiny of six modern novels which so richly evoke the very elements from which theories derive: language, form, and impulse. It is this specific application of theory that sets Passionate Doubts apart from other works in the field, yielding a series of important insights on the subject of language, sign, and the self in modern literature.