Antagonistic Reading: Metalepsis and the Intrusive Reader

Doctoral Dissertation


Novel plots often center on questions of knowledge, and characters often desire to conceal certain things about themselves. The act of reading a novel often entails coming to learn this privileged information. Readers thus typically function as antagonists in relation to the characters they read. In Antagonistic Reading: Metalepsis and the Intrusive Reader, I argue that such antagonistic relationships between readers and characters typify the novel-reading experience. I demonstrate this point by examining novels that represent the moment of their being read in such a way as to draw attention to such conflicts of interest—namely, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939), Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable (1953), and Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light (2006). Each novel compares its readers to antagonistic observers present in the novel’s fictional world, from imperial intelligence agents in Dublin Castle in Ulysses to unwanted voyeurs in Good Morning, Midnight to torturer-interrogators in The Unnamable. Playing in the Light, in turn, represents itself as an unauthorized biography, making its readers violators of its characters’ privacy. However, further consideration of this last novel demonstrates the potential usefulness of such antagonistic reading for representing contested truths, specifically, in this case, a revised, more inclusive account of the history of South African apartheid. I argue that, by representing antagonistic reader-character relationships, novels such as those that I examine in my dissertation draw attention to the antagonistic relationships that the novel form in general entails. In contrast to the recent affective turn of criticism that examines readers’ love of literature, best exemplified by Rita Felski, Antagonistic Reading argues that readers’ relationships with the novels they consume and the characters inhabiting them are complicated and tend towards conflict.


Attribute NameValues
Author Eric A. Lewis
Contributor Barry McCrea, Research Director
Contributor Declan Kiberd, Committee Member
Contributor Susan Cannon Harris, Research Director
Contributor Meg Samuelson, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2019-05-29

Submission Date 2019-06-30
  • modernism

  • characters

  • affect

  • readers

  • postcolonial fiction

  • the novel

  • antagonism

  • privacy

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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