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Title: The search for a political aesthetic in the fiction of Don DeLillo
Author: Longmuir, Anne
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis charts the search for an effective political aesthetic in the fiction of Don DeLillo. It examines all twelve of DeLillo’s novels from Americana (1971) to The Body Artist (2001). It argues DeLillo is one of the most important contemporary American writers, precisely because his fiction takes on a culture, that of the United States of America, and engages with geopolitics and history. DeLillo has been accused of apoliticism, but on the contrary this thesis demonstrates that the quest for an effective political aesthetic has been central to DeLillo’s project from the start. DeLillo’s aesthetic, which is often self-consciously enacted through the figure of the artist or writer in his novels, is furthermore set up in opposition to the dominant culture of late twentieth century America. This thesis concurs with Fredric Jameson’s argument that this dominant culture, postmodernism, is the superstructural manifestation of late capitalism. This thesis argues that DeLillo’s position to this culture is dialectical, as he struggles to find a place of resistance from within it. Furthermore, this thesis also argues that DeLillo positions the hope for political resistance with the marginalised, such as women, homosexuals and ethnic groups. It concludes DeLillo finds his solution in a semiotic aesthetic. This aesthetic, springing in part from the subject’s own body, is not entirely predetermined by the pre-existing narrative of the dominant culture, thereby restoring the individual speaking subject to some extent. However, this thesis argues that DeLillo also recognises the capacity of the dominant culture to continually reabsorb any transgression, hence it is only in an avant-garde art - one that can continually “make it new” - that any real hope for political resistance lies. Crucially, DeLillo plays this out in his own aesthetic by continually adopting different discourses and even in the case of The Body Artist producing a difficult and deliberately unpopular text. Finally, as his recourse to the avant-garde suggests, this thesis argues that it is wrong to regard DeLillo as an “exemplary postmodernist” as many, including Martin Amis do, concluding that this work is characterised by a strong modernist impulse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available