Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Amy J. Elias

Committee Members

Allen R. Dunn, Thomas W. Haddox, Stephen Blackwell


This dissertation uses theories of cognitive conceptual integration (as outlined by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner) to propose a model of narrative reading that mediates between narratology and theories of reception. I use this model to demonstrate how new experimental narratives achieve a potent balance between a determinate and open story-form. Where the high postmodernists of the 1970s and 80s created ironic, undecidable story-worlds, the novels considered here allow readers to embrace seemingly opposite propositions without retreating into ironic suspension, trading the postmodernist “neither/nor” for a new “both/and.” This technique demands significant revision of both descriptions of radical experimentation in twenty-first-century novels, and of earlier narratological accounts of the distinction between story and discourse.

Each novel considered in this dissertation encourages its reader to recognize combined concepts in the course of the reading process. Shelley Jackson’s Half Life combines singular and plural identity, reimagining individualist subjectivity and the literary treatment of (dis)ability. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions combines objective and subjective temporality, offering a new perspective on American myth-making in the popular post-Kerouac road-novel tradition. Percival Everett’s Erasure combines reliable and unreliable narration to create a complex critique of the idea of an African American novel tradition. M.D. Coverley’s hypertext novel Califia involves the reader in all three of these discursive dimensions at once, updating the marginalized art of hypertext fiction by inviting the reader to see his or her role in navigating the text as both creative and determined—the epitome of open-and-closed form.

My analysis demonstrates how cognitive blending is a precise method for describing how a reader interprets complex narrative structures. I propose this blending-model as a new approach to contemporary experimental fiction from the perspective of the reader’s cognitive work, and show how it offers new readings of important contemporary fiction. I argue that twenty-first-century authors attempt simultaneously to construct “open” forms, and to address real socio-cultural concerns in the world; I also argue that a narratology founded on theories of cognitive processes is best-equipped to describe the operations of reading and understanding these complex narrative forms.


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