Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3513-1970

Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Peter Kalliney

Abstract

The social sciences have developed robust bodies of scholarship on expertise and professionalism, yet literary analyses of the two remain comparatively sparse. I address this gap in Boundaries of Knowledge by examining recent Anglophone fiction and showing that expertise and professionalism are central concerns of contemporary authors, both as subject matter in fiction and in their public identities. I argue that the novelists studied use and abuse expertise and professionalism: they critique professions as participant observers, and also borrow the mantle of expert credibility to bolster their own cultural capital while documenting the pitfalls of expertise in their fiction.

My first chapter shows how acquired technical knowledge and professionalism are the central concerns of Ian McEwan’s Saturday. In the novel, Henry Perowne’s professionalism is the site from which various ethical and political debates radiate. Perowne—depicted as a rather heroic expert in comparison to the other novels studied in the dissertation—is disturbed by a total outsider in the form of Baxter, a man with no prospects or future, professional or otherwise. McEwan aligns himself more closely with Perowne: in part through extensive research for Saturday, he has developed a reputation as a public figure who straddles the “two cultures” of the sciences and humanities, a reputation that exists in a synergistic relationship with his particular brand of realist fiction, which emphasizes hard work and professional credibility.

Next, I demonstrate how Zadie Smith’s On Beauty reveals a deep suspicion of academia, which in the novel serves to cut disciplinary experts off both from the world outside campus and from an appreciation of the subjects they study. Smith’s academic professionals are well-intentioned but unable to look beyond field-specific boundaries to appreciate their objects of study (and unintentionally harm outsiders along the way). Larger issues such as race are always present but at the margins of the interpersonal drama that plays out between the novel’s numerous characters. I read Smith herself as reluctantly accepting academic life, teaching at New York University while maintaining a qualified distance from American academia in articles and interviews.

Chapters one and two are broadly about the advantages and drawbacks of expert knowledge, respectively. In my third chapter, Abdulrazak Gurnah offers the most circumspect view of experts yet with a fear of a “summarizing” expert or colonizer of knowledge that is only resolved by the arrival of a more authentic Zanzibari expert. In an analysis of Gurnah’s By the Sea, I show how professional networks--the United Kingdom’s immigration and refugee system, the colonial education system in Zanzibar, and the professoriate--raise questions about who is entitled to and capable of narrating people’s lives. These questions dovetail both with the novel’s shifting narrative form and with the concerns of Gurnah’s own work as a scholar of literature.

Beginning with McEwan and ending with Gurnah, Boundaries of Knowledge travels from the most socially and economically secure, elite experts to those left behind by contemporary professionalism. My title reflects this troubled landscape of expert knowledge and professionalism: who knows what, the benefits and drawbacks of the accompanying cultural capital, and the barriers between various fields, sets of knowledge, and finally people.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.262