Date of Completion
American Studies, Labor, Maintenance, Neoliberalism, Novel, Creative Nonfiction
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
This study investigates maintenance as an under-theorized component of social criticism in American novels, 1945 to the present. In this, it contributes a literary argument to growing interdisciplinary study of maintenance. “Upkeep” argues that authors of novels use maintenance, often unconsciously, to link representation of characters working in discreet settings to larger systemic and structural critique. At the same time, authors often elide forms of maintenance, for example the upkeep of domestic space. As such attention to representation of maintenance offers a critical reading tool which illuminates a text’s political and cultural commitments and literary agenda.
After establishing a range of questions articulated by maintenance studies, I employ “maintenance” as a reading device. First, I argue that Wright’s Native Sonreimagines the Marxist base outside the traditional white productive sphere by setting Bigger Thomas in a basement job where he is responsible for heating the mansion of a rich white family. Second, I argue that white male-authored suburban novels depict a fantasy of (reversed) victimization by foregrounding the extent of upkeep responsibilities falling to white men. Third, I argue that The Shiningdepicts maintenance (of corporate property and practice) as a method by which white men are seduced by misogynistic, racist and patriarchal values. Fourth, I argue that US neoliberal rationality involves, unlike its Keynesian predecessor, a devaluation of maintenance visible in Housekeepingas well as in Marie Kondo’s celebrity. Last, I provide a coda that uses combined academic and creative styles to advance a series of arguments and concerns about maintenance, such as its status as satisfying activity, its proliferation across different types of work, its embeddedness in social systems and liberal media (real estate leases) and its problematic overlap with the constant growth of consumerism.
Benevento, John, "Upkeep: Maintenance in American Representations of Work, 1945-Present" (2019). Doctoral Dissertations. 2120.