Introduction: Ethical Criticism and Postwar Literary Theory
“Every decoding is another encoding . . .”
– David Lodge, Small World
How do academic fictions create meaning and value through their satirical narratives in a critical era that bemoans the cultural relevance of poststructuralist hermeneutics and proclaims the death of literature in a postmodern world? As scholars engage in debate over the social and pedagogical value of critical projects such as deconstruction to contemporary institutions of higher learning, academic novels enjoy frequent publication during the latter half of this century, an era marked by the increasing accessibility of postsecondary education. Academic novels often satirize and problematize the contradictions and sociological nuances of campus life, yet critics of academic fiction – despite the remarkable growth and evolution of the Anglo-American academic novel as a literary genre since the 1950s – neglect to address the satiric ethos that undergirds the genre's thematic landscape. The scathing representation of professors and institutions alike in these fictions as figures of deceit, duplicity, and falsehood, moreover, remains unexamined in the scholarly monographs devoted to the study of the academic novel.
The brand of satire endemic to the genre of academic fiction – a “pejorative poetics” that I will trace through analyses of specific works in subsequent chapters of this study – finds its genesis in the disillusionment that marks the professional lives of academics in the twentieth century. Like their forebears in the academic fictions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who languished