Date of Award

2010

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

English Language and Literatures

Sub-Department

English

First Advisor

David Cowart

Abstract

Structured by an alternating focus on characters and worlds, my project offers a framework to consider the fragmentation of the modern subject in postmodernity. On one hand, I roll back the theoretical critique of the subject and, on the other, show that modernism's basic configuration of identity--alienation--has evolved but not vanished. Modeling the subject/object dialectic, my dissertation tells a complex story of the contest between the expansive subject and the poststructuralist response that tips the balance of power to the object. For those who find little comfort in the modern subject or in its subsequent dispersal, postmodern alienation seeks a middle ground. It is not mutual recognition, but its hazardous prerequisite, for intersubjectivity not only requires subjects but also presumes a space between them--an unavoidable degree of alienation, which potentially leads to love and respect or to isolation and abuse.

To show that the beleaguered subject persists, though it feigns giving over to the object world, to extreme reification or to its own fragmentation, I turn to Don DeLillo's White Noise and Libra. Avoiding a supposedly ludic schizophrenia that privileges differences over unities, while also recognizing that individual identity, far from being impregnable and sealed, has suffered under the onslaught of postmodernity, DeLillo depicts alienation in new, extreme, and complicated forms. This reading provides a fresh response to the persistent critical debate over DeLillo's blurry position within modernism or postmodernism. Embracing the way he elides categories and periods, I go back a hundred years to Harold Frederic's The Damnation of Theron Ware and The Market Place. Similar to the alienated subjects in DeLillo, Frederic's male characters encounter a rapidly changing social order in which all the traditional boundaries have been traversed. As a result, they become increasingly unstable and respond with violence, thus highlighting the precarious subject/object relation presupposed by alienation. By allowing for a divide between the subject and object, alienation opens up the possibility of domination. Without it, however, individual agency and mutual recognition become tenuous.

Critical theorists rightly recognize the potential violence built into the configuration of the modern subject and, thus, seek to dismantle it. They announce the demise of subject/object dialectic and, with it, the subject's long reign of tyranny. Yet, by granting victory to the object, they go too far in the other direction, draining the subject of its consciousness and will. To temper this assault, I read theory as "postmodern fiction," a genre distinguished by its emphasis on constructing worlds. Critics of the modern subject do not merely attack its dangerous presuppositions, but also redefine subjectivity by projecting a world and then constituting the subject in relation to their own projections--a postmodern vision with its own ontological, and often metaphysical, configurations. Thus, I trace the projected worlds of several canonical theorists: Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Michel Foucault.

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