The Afterlife of Raymond Carver: Authenticity, Neoliberalism and Influence

  • Jonathan Pountney

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the afterlife of Raymond Carver in relation to a number of important writers and artists that claim Carver as an influence and who are working within countries or cultures that have recently made, or are in the process of making, the transition from embedded liberalism to neoliberalism. This project argues that while Carver's influence has been conventionally limited to what critic A.O. Scott calls 'a briefly fashionable school of experimental fiction', in recent years his writing has come to represent a 'return' to a more 'real' form of literature, one that, his advocates would argue, is more 'authentic' than other kinds of recent writing. Carver's 'authenticity' is closely tied to the idea that his fiction is a response to his own working-class experience and is seen to be more broadly synecdochic of the socioeconomic struggles faced by many other Americans during this period. Given the cultural and aesthetic differences between Carver's life and work, and those studied in the main chapters of this thesis - Jay McInerney, Haruki Murakami and Alejandro González Iñárritu - I argue that Carver's afterlife is best viewed as being a social phenomenon, born out of the social relations, historical circumstances and economic forms that resulted from the US's move to neoliberalism in the late-1970s. My introduction historicizes this transition and argues that while Carver may have struggled to make productive sense of his socioeconomic circumstance, it affected his life in very pointed and particular ways, trapping him between the conventional American dream of individual freedom and equal opportunity and the reality of inequality and social immobility. For those who claim Carver as an influence, his fiction represents a zone where the difference between hegemonic narratives and lived experience is explored and embodies a model of how to negotiate, for better or worse, the complex and shifting foundations of this recent political transition. My introduction then continues to argue that of equal importance to Carver's afterlife is the fact that, in his late-writing in particular, Carver's work represents a 'retreat' from the shortterm, competition-based notions of neoliberal labour towards a non-incorporated residual alternative that has particular artisanal tenets associated with craftsmanship. Carver's texts operate beyond their initial cultural and historical moment by becoming distinctive sites of resistance to the hegemonic norms of late-capitalism. In this way, I argue, Carver's 'authenticity' combines with a consolatory craftsmanship to become a coping mechanism that offers other writers and artists working in neoliberalism a way of navigating a world which seems to exceed the frame of conceptual mapping. By working through a series of short case studies on Stuart Evers, Denis Johnson and Ray Lawrence, and then moving on to more detailed explorations in my three central chapters, this thesis will consider how this is the case in relation to a number of important artists who claim Carver as an influence. Chapter one utilises my archival research to historicize the relationship between Carver and McInerney and argues that Carver's pedagogy pushed McInerney towards the idea that the writing process is connected to residual narratives of American craft. It also contends that many of the orthodox ideas that Carver held about literature proved particularly enabling for McInerney's novel Brightness Falls, which, through parody and satire, signals a retreat from postmodern experimentation towards a more 'Carveresque' realism. Chapter two similarly chronicles Carver's relationship with Murakami and argues that, for Murakami, Carver's fiction is an important example of writing that explores the difference between hegemonic narratives and lived experience. The chapter moves on to argue that what some critics view as Carver's reformed post-alcoholic fiction helped facilitate Murakami's own unorthodox spiritual response
Date of Award31 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBen Harker (Supervisor) & Ian Mcguire (Supervisor)


  • Jay McInerney
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Raymond Carver
  • Alejandro G. Inarritu
  • Neoliberalism
  • Afterlife
  • Influence
  • Authenticity

Cite this