English, Department of


First Advisor

Roland Végső

Second Advisor

Marco Abel

Third Advisor

Matt Cohen

Date of this Version

Spring 4-25-2021


Turner, Joseph W. The Ungovernable Novel: Towards a New Political Imaginary. MA Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2021. 51 pp.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Roland Végső. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Joseph William Turner


The primary objective of my thesis is to provide an initial definition of what we could call the “ungovernable novel.” I borrow the concept of the “ungovernable” from the field of political theory, and I apply it to the theory of the novel by way of an engagement of Mikhail Bakhtin’s and Georg Lukács’ theories of the novel. Building on this theoretical foundation, I argue that our contemporary political imagination has reached a historical juncture: we must abandon the dystopian framework that we have inherited from the Cold War, and we must move in the direction of the ungovernable novel. I analyze George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949) as the quintessential text of the dystopian paradigm. The novel’s dystopic vision has found purchase across the entire political spectrum and has shaped our vision of the future. I argue, however, that we should seek literary examples of "ungovernability" that disorient the ways we imagine moments of "chaos" and allow us to recognize them as experiences of collective joy. The ungovernable novel presents us with a new task: How do we write fictions that emerge from revolts themselves? Using Giorgio Agamben's concept of the "ungovernable," I analyze Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers (2014) as a text that demonstrates some of the possibilities of an ungovernable imagination. The ungovernable novel reaches out to its readers from the event and allows the novel to deactivate its disciplinary role as an individualizing agent. This operation frees the imagination, allowing the reader to come to a different understanding of the forms that social revolt may take.

Advisor: Roland Végső