Psychology of Social Class in the Fiction of Russell Banks, Denis Johnson and Harry Crews. Neo-Realism, Naturalism, and Humanism in Contemporary Fiction

Author: Buehrer, David
A new look at presenting the psycho-social complexes that drive the fictional characters’ sense of selfhood in the works of Banks, Johnson and Crews. These contemporary American writers seek to restore a humanistic viewpoint to such figures in an age of “post-human” devolution of identity.


“David Buehrer’s seminal study constitutes a brilliant aggiornamento after decades of dogmatic literary theory born of postmodern experimental fiction. His critique of Banks, Johnson, and Crews offers a welcome return to fundamentals, while updating such notions as realism, naturalism, and humanism…Buehrer has achieved a study of considerable strength to determine the significance of a new trend in American literature.”
-Daniel Royot
Professor Emeritus of American Literature & Civilization,
University of Paris, Sorbonne Nouvelle

“Perhaps the most important contribution of this study is that it makes the reader want to discover these authors. Dave successfully makes the case that the works of Banks, Johnson, and Crews deserve more critical attention, and his book is an important step in not only remedying the critical neglect of these authors but also in inspiring further scholarly analyses.”
-Professor Karen J. Jacobsen,
Davenport University

“It is the considerable achievement of the present monograph that it articulates a coherent and passionately felt defense of the works of these three writers, while effectively situating literary realism itself as a current, vital, and fundamentally important American mode. We are as such left not merely with a timely reminder of the canonical claims of Banks, Johnson, and Crews, but with a particularly useful critical framework for future research.”
-Professor Ken R. Hanssen,
University of Nordland, Norway

Table of Contents

Foreword by Daniel Royot
Acknowledgements and Permissions
I. Introduction: On “New” Realisms and Why Class Matters to the Fiction of banks, Johnson, and Crews
A. Review of Literature
1. Critical studies specific to Banks, Johnson, and Crews
2. General critical studies / debate over “new realisms:
B. State of the Question / Problem: A Matter of Form, a Question of Class
1. On “nixing the neo-” (and other adjectival realisms)
2. On “adding class” (the “elided” middle)
C. Thesis / Solution to problem> Realism, Class Consciousness, Neo-Humanism
D. Methodology of Argument
E. On Primary / Secondary Sources Used to Prove Argument’s Validity
II. Russell Banks and the Psychological Burdens of Class:
Affliction and The Angel on the Roof
A. Banks and the Role of Class “Affliction”
1. Critics on Affliction
2. Banks Against the Postmodern Grain
3. Naturalism and Class Determinism in Affliction
4. Narrative, Memory, and Mourning: Rolfe as Witness
5. From Naturalism to “New” Humanism
B. When “The Child Screams and Looks back at You”:
The Psychology of Class in The Angel on the Roof
1. Bio-Critical Links: Class & Environment in Angel
2. Mothers, Sons, Class: “The Child Screams and Looks Back at You”
3. Fathers, Sons, Class: “The Burden”
4. Sympathy, if not Redemption, for the Working-Class
III. Denis Johnson’s Psychological paradoxes: Class and the Quest for Identity in Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and Tree of Smoke
A. The “Institutional Man” as “Knights of Faith”: Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
1. Work and Psychological Breakdown in Resuscitation
2. Religion and “Resuscitating” the Human
3. Belief as Delusion: Institutionalization as Re-humanization
B. “No Direction Home:: Class Determinism and the Vietnam War Narrative Revisited in Tree of Smoke
1. Apocalypse, Now and Again
2. Vietnam Narratives Redux
3. Where War meets Class Constraints in Tree
4. “the End” and Beyond
IV. Crew’s Blues: Naturalistic Determinism and Class Consciousness in A Feast of Snakes and Body: A Tragicomedy
A. Class, Depression, and Desperation: A Feast of Snakes
1. The Class Divide and Southern Literary Tradition: Crews vs. His predecessors
2. The Psychological Crux: Poverty Meets Despair and Violence in Mystic
B. “Down the Shitter to Nowhere Land”: Naturalist Survival of the Fittest in Body :A Tragicomedy
1. Competition and Class; Gender and Geography
2. Loss of Self, Loss of identity: or, “You Can’t Go Home Again” (or Anywhere Else)
V. Conclusion: A “New” Humanism in American Fiction?
VI. Bibliography
VII. Index