Grace Riley

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Eli Jelly-Schapiro


One of the most crucial concerns of cultural criticism today is the question of how to grapple with what Mark Fisher refers to as the “malaise” of the present; the pervasive belief that capitalism is the only viable option, that there is no alternative ‘other.’ However, there remains a vibrant scholarship committed to resisting such pessimism that theorizes the possibility of alternative, utopian futures that lie athwart the apocalyptic present. This thesis explores the question of how one begins to imagine such alternative futures from within a capitalist order that constantly works to pre-emptively subsume any possibilities of resistance. Art and fiction specifically play a vital role in this conversation; Ben Lerner’s 10:04 goes beyond dominant modes of resistance by exploring the ‘revolutionary’ possibilities of aesthetic resistance. The novel’s nameless narrator experiences various aesthetic moments in which crises—both punctual and durative—open up a space in which he is able to articulate affective dispositions which make visible the glimmers of alternatives amidst the heterotemporal present. It is a confrontation with shame specifically that allows the narrator to affectively register the apocalyptic state of the present. Shame is registered first as an instantaneous experience that alters one’s perception of the world, and then as a quotidian process of reflection and resistance. Various modes of art liberated from market logic and commodification within 10:04 illuminate the overlap of apocalypse and utopia, evoking in the narrator the euphoric possibility of alternative futures where “everything will be as it is now, just a little different.” Finally, the narrator (and/as Lerner) reveals through his artistic decision to write his/this novel, 10:04, that responding meaningfully to a capitalist order is not necessarily radicalization, but a change in perception that enables the imagining of alternative futures beyond capitalism.