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Title: Virtual frontiers and the technological state : contemporary American narratives in a global context
Author: Flett, Edward Charles
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis analyses a series of threshold states located within contemporary culture. It investigates the effects of technology on spatial relations and human conditions in recent centuries, with a specific interest in the rise of virtual phenomena and the ongoing process of virtualisation. Key to the discussion is measuring the extent to which America and its narratives have influenced the virtual layer attached to contemporary global technological culture. Prevalent within this framework is the idea of the frontier as an idealised outpost, a lingering threshold state that is scrutinised in terms of its metaphoric power and socio-historical relevance. The research examines the points of interaction between the frontier, the virtual, and recent technology, as well as the areas in which technology has been produced, distributed, and consumed, as a means of building on ‘virtual frontiers’ and the ‘technological state’ as original critical concepts. Chapter one, from a socio-cultural and historical perspective, develops the idea of California as the location where the frontier spirit dispersed, transferring to an extent from land to body. Rich in posthuman ambience, the state functions as a hub from which to negotiate the position of the body in relation to the frontier: to look at the body as a frontier in itself, its virtualisation, and the now perennial dialectic between the positive and negative effects of technology on human/non-human interactivity. From the ashes of the 1960s, pockets of urban youth living in America’s inner cities gave birth to a subculture that is now globally recognised as Hip Hop. Despite Hip Hop always being a potent reflective surface, chapter two assesses its development and continuing capacity as a virtual and technological form of expression. In the decades between Malcolm X’s assassination and the election of President Obama, how has Hip Hop changed as a virtual arena and mode of resistance, as it has simultaneously been incorporated into the American mainstream? Indeed, as a cultural object and virtual space with the potential to carry evocative messages across thresholds, did Hip Hop even survive this transition? And what were the ramifications of its transformation? The third chapter examines the shadows emanating from the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. The narratives from 9/11 are considered while investigating a diverse selection of transnational texts that touch on the subject, including works from Don DeLillo, Amy Waldman, Martin Amis, and Frédéric Beigbeder. Also considered is the day’s social and historical significance, and its power as a virtual event. More specifically, the impact on time, perception, and narrative structure is observed, each element appearing in the shadows that stretch out from the decades before and beyond the events of that clear blue September morning. Through characters in recent fiction by William Gibson and Hari Kunzru, the final chapter scans American consumption and the representations projected out from its brands and advertising. Within technological states now transmitted globally, the chapter reflects on the consequences of consumer culture as we venture further into the virtual and its realities, drawn through what Jean Baudrillard calls an irreconcilable conflict between ‘total integration’ and the ‘dual form’.
Supervisor: Bould, Mark ; Boehmer, Elleke Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Visual art and representation ; English Language and Literature ; American literature in English ; Globalisation ; 21st Century music ; American studies ; Transnationalism ; Transnationalism and diaspora ; National identity ; Urban Studies ; Technology and Applied Sciences ; technology ; film ; 20th century ; 21st century ; American culture ; frontiers ; DeLillo ; William Gibson ; Hari Kunzru ; hip hop