Maximalism in Contemporary American Literature: The Uses of Detail, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Maximalism in Contemporary American Literature

The Uses of Detail, 1st Edition

By Nick Levey


176 pages

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pub: 2020-03-31
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This book begins a new and foundational discussion of maximalism by investigating how the treatment of detail in contemporary literature impels readers to navigate, tolerate, and enrich the cultural landscape of postindustrial America. It studies the maximalist novels of David Foster Wallace, Nicholson Baker, Thomas Pynchon, and others, considering how overly-detailed writing serves the institutional, emotional, and intellectual needs of contemporary readers and writers. The book argues that maximalist novels not only exceed perceived limits of style, subject matter, and scope, but strive to remake the usefulness of books in contemporary culture, refreshing the act of reading. Levey shows that while these novels are preoccupied with detail and description, they are relatively unconcerned with the traditional goals of representation. Instead, they use detail to communicate particular values and fantasies of intelligence, enthusiasm, and ability attached to the management of complex and excessive information. Whether reinvigorating the banal and trivial in mainstream culture, or soothing anxieties of human insufficiency in the age of automation and the internet, these texts model significant abilities, rather than just objects of significance, and encourage readers to develop habits of reading that complement the demands of an increasingly detailed culture. Drawing upon a diverse range of theoretical schools and cultural texts, including Thing Theory, Marxism, New Formalism, playlists, blogs, and archival manuscripts, the book proposes a new understanding of maximalist writing and a new way of approaching the usefulness of literary objects in contemporary culture.

Table of Contents


1. Giants and Junk: Power-Reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

2. On Flunking: Maximalist Description in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest 94

3. Data-Sickle: Maximalism and White-Collar Aesthetics in David Foster Wallace's The Pale King

4. Just Maximalist Things: Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine and Objects of Curiosity

5. Housebound: Domestic Excess in Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature

6. Mindless Pleasures: Playlists, Unemployment, and Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

Conclusion: Overflow: The Margins of American Maximalism

About the Author

Nick Levey teaches in the English Department at La Trobe University, Australia. He publishes on contemporary fiction and is currently writing about post-press literature and the rise of digital self-publishing.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 20th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 21st Century