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|Title: ||‘I Shop, Therefore I Am: Consumerism and the Mass Media in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland|
|Authors: ||Eigeartaigh, Aoileann N|
|Supervisor(s): ||Millard, Ken|
|Issue Date: ||Jun-2001|
|Abstract: ||This thesis argues that consumerism and the mass media wield an
unparalleled influence over contemporary North American society, and that these
forces constitute the primary means through which identity is constituted. The
historical and theoretical developments that have led to the foregrounding of these
forces are outlined in the introduction - developments, it is argued, that are
intrinsically connected to the social upheava1 that characterized America in the late
1960's and early 1970's, while their presence in and effects on the fiction of four
contemporary North American writers - Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland - are examined in the main body of the thesis.
Chapter I focuses on Pynchon whose novels, it is argued, are the product of a
uniquely post-1960's America, which mourns the sacrifice of traditional ideals to the
corporate mindset which has been prevalent since ths 1980's Pynchon's dominant
metaphor for the direction in which he believes American society to be moving is
the thermodynamic concept of entropy, which stipulates that all prqress is towards
death. His novels abound with characters who disintegrate due to the information
overload fostered by their media-based world. However, he retains his faith that a
return to historical values and traditions will stem and even reverse the entropic tide
DeLillo, a close contemporary of Pynchon's, draws on a different aspect of
the legacy of the 1960's, for his writing is overshadowed by the 1963 assassination
of President Kennedy and the years of turbulence that ensued. His novels are
ultimately more pessimistic because his characters do not succeed in escaping from
the repressive narratives of consumerism and the mass media in order to reassert
their own personalities. One reason for this failure, it is argued, is that DeLillo's
characters represent a metaphorical dramatization of the dichotomy between the
modernist desire for structure and the postmodernist embrace of fluidity and uncertainty.
The fictional characters of the younger authors, Ellis and Coupland, inhabit
this postmodern world where all experience has been rendered depthless and
traditional ontological and epistemological certainties have been collapsed Ellis'
characters fluctuate between the extremes of apathy and violence as they search for
a way of preventing their psyches from disintegrating amidst the surrounding chaos.
Neither one of these options brings - any relief.
Coupland is more optimistic about the ability of his characters to survive and
even prosper in the contemporary world. He arms them with the linguistic and
technological skills necessary to adapt to the rapid social and technological changes.
Most importantly of all, he draws on the sense of objectivity fostered by his own
background as a Canadian in order to provide them with an alternative and a sense
of escape from the media-saturated environment of the American West Coast.
What is perhaps most remarkable about these four authors as a group is that
in spite of their obvious insight into the nature of the contemporary postmodern
world, they are unwilling - or perhaps even unable - to fully relinquish their hold on
a number of traditional metanarratives, most notably the ideal of the stable,
supportive family unit. This implies a degree of uncertainty and perhaps even of fear
on their parts about fully committing to the fluidity of contemporary culture.|
|Keywords: ||english literature|
|Appears in Collections:||Literatures, Languages, and Cultures PhD thesis collection|
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