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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Debilitating Strength: The Paranoid Arc in American Literature

Eric Heyne.

In the wake of the 9-11 attacks American citizens are clearly feeling both more frightened and more aggressive. This paper tries to put the current American posture of purportedly well-intentioned economic and military hegemony in a literary-historical context, by briefly surveying some of the key texts in a long history of American novelists addressing the dangers that accompany increased world power. The paranoia-inducing position that I am calling 'debilitating strength' was recognized by Melville, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Ellison, Heller, Kesey, Pynchon, and Didion, among others, and is currently being explored most articulately by Don Delillo. The paper links novel passages with contemporary events and those events with the present situation, in the belief that literary insights can provide us with alternatives to a global police state under the Pax Americana.


Eric Heyne  (United States)
Professor of English and Associate Dean
English Department and College of Liberal Arts
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Eric Heyne has taught Northern literature, American literature, and critical theory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1986. His recent publications are in the theory of the fiction/nonfiction distinction and Alaskan and northern literature.

  • American Literature
  • Novels
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Paranoia
Person as Subject
  • Melville, Herman Hemingway, Ernest Dos Passos, John Ellison, Ralph Heller, Joseph Kesey, Ken Pynchon, Thomas Didion, Joan Delillo, Don

(Virtual Presentation, English)