Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://localhost:8081/xmlui/handle/123456789/216
Authors: Lahiri, Navanita
Issue Date: 1996
Abstract: The prolonged hostilities between high culture and low culture which commenced with the opening up of canons by Leslie Fiedler, Russel Nye and others finally drew to a close in the 1960s: though academia still resonates with remembered" reverberations of this uncomfortable tension. Popularity as a sociological phenomenon and its aesthetic manifestation in every form of creativity-art, music, literature, media, among othersnow forms the focus of close scrutiny under the purview of culture studies. As the study of popular culture emerged into its own, it developed a separate and distinct code of aesthetics. The seminal work of John Cawelti established the presence of •formula' in popular fiction, such as the detective story, the western, the romances, the melodrama and science fiction. The simplification and trivialization of highly theoretical and densely intellectual concepts that popular culture indulges in gives it its characteristic essence. A similar simplification of the academic discipline of ethnography takes place in the fiction of James Michener, who adopts the ethnographer's stance and democratizes cultural anthropology through his novels. Ethnography which is the (tool arh' of cultural anthropology consists in recording exotic and alien cultures on one hand and examining the socio-cultural fabric of civilization on another. The primary task of the ethnographer involves a close study of a particular group or community with an objective scientific temper. The data thus collected is then used to analyse different aspects of that culture. Clifford Geertz in Work and Lives j. The Anthropologist as Author, suggests that almost all literature in so far as it operates within a socio-cultural context and contains a sociological document, is in some sense ethnography. Thus at one level the author is an ethnographer and vice-versa. This lends a sociological bias to the study of literature. A sociologist by training and the creative writer by vocation, James Michener emerges as a forger synthesizing the two intellectual cultures in his popular best-sellers. He substantiates Geertz's postulate of an ethnographer and writer, exploiting brilliantly the tangential point of contact between literature and ethnography. Michener was born in New York in 1907. After graduating from Swathmore College, he spent two years studying in Europe. He returned to America to study and teach at Colorado State College, Greeley. Michener took up his writing career at the age of fortyone, after World War-II which provided an impetus by introducing him to the enchanting Hawaiian islands. His first novel Tales of South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. This success was followed by scores of fiction and non-fiction works. Michener's interests are spread horizontally covering vast geographical areas in his fiction. His novels are located all over the globe in which he deals with divergent racial and cultural groups far removed from each other in everyway. In writing sociohistorical docudramas, Michener's method involves a 11 journey to these places where he sets up temporary residence. Hr meets with experts and interacts with the local people and attempts to grasp at the very essence of the culture, to examine its roots and explain its present condition from a historical retrospective point of view. To narrow down his immense geographical dimensions, this study seeks to explore only four of Michener's novels : namely, Chesapeake, Centennial. Texas and Hawaii. All the four novels subscribe to the typical Michenerian formula of epic sagas from antiquity to present day. More importantly, these novels are based on areas within the U.S.A., making this project an investigation restricted to Michener's American novels alone. Despite the fact that Michener has contributed so over whelmingly to contemporary American popular fiction, unfortunately no sustained critical study has been attempted on him. During the course of investigations and consultations it was disappointing to find that there is a complete absence of scholarship of any sort on this author, barring three books, biographical in nature. The meagre secondary material used has been gleaned from book reviews and career and personality profiles. Periodicals and articles on him range from the New York Times Book Review and Contemporary Author Series to Women's Weekly and Reader's Digest magazines hardly scholarly in content or intent. Awareness of these constraints and limitations, has led this project to introduce a fascinating author to the academic world and to open 111 up a relatively fresh area of study within the parameters of popular culture. This project is divided into six chapters.The first chapter will be introductory in nature where apart from introducing the author a general idea of the two theoretical contexts will be given. This chapter will also explain the choice 6f subject and justify its need with possible results. Chapter-II will make an overall study of popular culture, especially popular literature, with special reference to its aesthetic and literary genres. It will also take a broad look at ethnography and try to determine its relationship with literature. Chapter-Ill will focus two of Michener's four novels selected for this study, namely Chesapeake and Centennial. Apart from looking at the specific characteristics of these two novels an attempt will be made to extract the voice of the ethnographer: how Michener dons the mantle of the ethnographer and weaves its into his narrative fabric. Chapter-IV will be devoted to the scrutiny of the remaining two novels-Texas and Hawaii. The project disregards the chronological order in which the novels were published. These novels have been rearranged according to historical chronology for the purposes of this study. As this project seeks to examine the unstated posturings of a popular novelist as an ethnographer the chronology of ethnohistory of the U.S.A. as it emerges in its progress towards modernity beco mesof paramount interest. This methodology is more akin to that used by the social sciences than the humanities. IV However, in this case it may be regarded as yet another amalgamation of the two opposing camps in furthuring the cause of popular culture. Chapter-V will briefly evaluate the style and structure of Michener's novels. Their artistic value in terms of plots, characters, narrative techniques, their strengths and weaknesses will be scrutinized. The concluding Chapter-VI will evaluate the overall worth of Michener as a creative writer and study his artistic, moral and ethical convictions. The vision of the writer and his purpose will also be explored. This Chapter will also examine whether or not, Michener may be called an ethnographer masquerading as a popular novelist or vice-versa? How far does Michener live up to the designation of ethnographer that this project seeks to confer upon him? These are the questions that the project seeks to answer.
Other Identifiers: Ph.D
Research Supervisor/ Guide: Trivedi, A.P.
metadata.dc.type: Doctoral Thesis
Appears in Collections:DOCTORAL THESES (HSS)

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