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ROBERT COOVER AND THE LITERATURE OF DREAM TIME
Robert Coover directs his readers to view his works as elaborate metaphors. He asks that we see reflected in them the process through which man--Christian or non-Christian, "primitive" or scientist--turns his metaphoric apprehension of his universe into mythic "truth," and then gives it power over him. Focusing on Coover's latest and most ambitious novel, The Public Burning, this study examines his fiction with respect to the way in which he juxtaposes contemporary societal myths or "America's Civil Religion" with the more generalized world-myths as described (and mythified) by cultural anthropologists. By making each stand metaphorically for the other, Coover makes his readers see both in terms of the "root" metaphors which underlie them, and thereby, "demythifies" both.^ The Introduction discusses Coover's "place" in contemporary literature, especially as "metafictionist," in order to illustrate the limitations and confusion inherent in current categorizations of his work. In addition it surveys the fictions of other contemporary writers who work with similar materials.^ Part I, explores Coover's use of metaphor in creating the "designs" for his work. It then, considers his early fictions as they reveal his primary and contentual concerns. Of special interest is the concept of "dream time," as found in Australian Aboriginal mythology and as described by Emile Durkheim and Roger Caillois. Dream time refers to a symbolic return to a mythic primordial era of chaotic creative energy, which a society undertakes in order to revitalize itself. It involves sacrifice, the breaking of taboos, the rehearsal of origins, and the reversal of order. It is an attempt to re-establish the old order and to adapt it to inevitable change. Along with its "paired/opposite" apocalypse, dream time constitutes one of the major elements in Coover's metaphor. Part I also traces the evolution in metaphoric design in Coover's fictions.^ After a brief chapter on "The Cat in the Hat for President" as anticipatory, Part II begins the discussion of The Public Burning as parody and mock-epic. It concentrates on the novel's structure around "significant" numbers and on the omniscient chapters as they unfold the pseudo-apocalypse cum dream time of the early 1950's which culiminates in the ritualistic sacrifice of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. It also treats Coover's various parodies of literary myth-making.^ Part III examines Richard Nixon's first person chapters as the "confessions" of a dream time hero. It explores Coover's use of the heroic paradigm to create a trickster/parody hero, who, through determination and finally submission to the myth, secures a place in the society's hierarchy.^ Part IV places The Public Burning within a long-lived tradition of trickster/parody heroes in the pre-Cervantian literature which Coover says influenced his development. Beginning with Hermes, Odysseus, and the classic-medieval fool, it concludes with a look at the romantic hero as a source for Coover's parody and, finally, the picaro. The picaresque hero, as exemplified by Lazarillo de Tormes not Don Quixote, proves to be an archetypal antecedent for Richard Nixon. In the picaro's trials and moderate triumphs, self-awareness and self-delusion lie Nixon's roots. The Part also discusses the volatile societal conditions under which each of these heroes arose and which make their literatures "literatures of dream time."^ In concluding, the study examines more fully the prophetic nature of dream time literature for society and art, including Coover's fiction. ^
PAMELA JANE MAJOR,
"ROBERT COOVER AND THE LITERATURE OF DREAM TIME"
(January 1, 1981).
Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst.