Hyper-masculinity : the construction of gender in the postmodern novel
This thesis takes as its subject the superficial nature of the normative masculine gender role. To investigate the creation of this role I have attempted to bring some understanding of recent theorisation of the postmodern, and of gendered identity, to readings of selected contemporary fiction. I have chosen to focus on several contemporary American texts. In a bid to avoid essentialising masculinity ever further I attempt to embrace the self-reflexive way in which these novels are written in conjunction with the various postmodernisms posited by Fredric Jameson, Jean-Francois Lyotard, John Frow and Jean Baudrillard. Despite differing in significant ways, these critics all explore the idea of multiple identities. The lack of fixity this multiplicity fosters ensures that masculinity as an intrinsic given becomes disputed. 'The dialogues this creates reveal a category that is insecure, mobile and fluctuating, regardless of attempts to present it as otherwise. 'The first novel looked at is 'Thomas Pynchon's Vineland. This narrative encourages the questioning of the 'standard' masculinity adopted in patriarchal society by displaying men vulnerable to Post Traumatic Stress disorder, hysteria and madness, due to the war in Vietnam and governmental law enforcement. Masculinity is portrayed as tentative, provisional and impossible to maintain to society's exacting requirements. Psychotherapy is shown to confusingly both offer a fixed and stable 'self, whilst also promoting the encouragement of potential multiple other' selves' . Don DeLillo's White Noise continues the search for these 'selves'. Jack Gladney's debilitating fear of death compromises his mental and physical health. His strivings to deal with this, whilst also fulfilling various strands of the desired male stereotype, are explored through life-threatening disasters, usually pre-empted by rapidly developing technology. Jack's career in academia raises questions about the circulation of knowledge and information. Like Vineland, White Noise also examines the role of the family unit as an inherent part of the enforcement of standardised identities. 'The Family', both in its domestic format and via its more violent reincarnation as The Mafia, plays a vital role in all of these texts. Within DeLillo's Underworld (Section Three), the protagonist's therapy brings him away from the influence of The Mob, transforming him from murderer to upstanding citizen. His career in Waste Management provides a metaphor for the text's exploration of the manner in which abject matter is expulsed as part of a bid to conform to societal requirements. I draw upon Julia Kristeva's work on abjection in this section. The ritualistic nature of what is discarded and what revered is further explored in the fourth novel, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. This text offers an extreme picture of the potential results of stereotypical containment, with a protagonist who is determined to hyper-conform. Patrick Bateman not only espouses the thorough commodification of society, he also strives to exceed every stipulation pertaining to consummate masculinity. Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama, provides the material for the final chapter, it offers a chilling portrayal of surface-obsessed society. Mediated images of celebrities provide role models for the characters' identity formation. Postmodernity's purported lack of depth is explored in the light of Baudrillard's theories. The potentialities of the cybernetic post-human are raised and discussed via the theorisation of Lyotard and Donna Haroway. The texts were selected for their usefulness in demonstrating a developing notion that rather than forming a new or extended sense of masculinity, men are acknowledging a growing awareness of the self-conscious, performative, indeed 'hyper', nature of any masculine identity. Contemporary films and television programmes are examined alongside the novels.