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Title: The Disappearance of the Real - Mass Media in Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy
Authors: Sorrentino, Giuseppe
metadata.dc.contributor.advisor: Russo, John Paul
Issue Date: 12-May-2009
Publisher: Università degli studi Roma Tre
Abstract: Università degli Studi di Roma Tre Dipartimento Studi Americani Giuseppe Sorrentino The Disappearance of the Real Mass Media in Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Cormac McCarthy ABSTRACT Since the late 1940s America has witnessed the enormous diffusion of visual media. The "spectacularization" of reality, together with the image-oriented language that characterizes contemporary communication, became an essential element of the way in which the world is experienced. What Guy Debord prophesied in The Society of Spectacle has all but come true. Televised events, such as 9/11, the funerals of Mother Theresa or Princess Diana, the World Cup in soccer, have proven his crucial statement: "all that was once lived directly is now removed in a representation." The role of mass media has been "narrated" and analyzed endlessly by novelists, commonly designated as "postmodern, " who make constant reference to television and cinema in shaping people's imaginary. This project examines the work of three representative American post modernists (Pynchon, DeLillo, McCarthy) in relation to mass media. It is a comparative study that analyzes three different expressions of literary postmodernism in the United States: the surrealistic, kaleidoscopic prose of Thomas Pynchon; the bold, linguistically elegant narratives of Don DeLillo; the Faulknerian, biblical style of Cormac McCarthy. The thesis is characterized by an allegorical reading of the texts, theoretically inspired by Marshall McLuhan's use of literature as a tool to comprehend the world of technology and Jacques Ellul's critique of that world. Thus what is pointed out in the texts is the role of mass media spectacles; they are analyzed from different perspectives based on the various characters presented: in this way, for example, Oedipa Mass in The Crying of Lot 49 becomes an allegory of a confused universal spectator confronting the overwhelming power of television, Esmeralda becomes a religious icon on a billboard in DeLillo's Underworld , and Judge Holden in Blood Meridian uses a "spectacular" rhetoric that influences his followers' decisions. Allegory is also a theoretical link which permits a common reading of authors that would otherwise seem too distant in themes and styles. This is particularly important in the case of Cormac McCarthy who writes historical novels, never making clear references to the world of mass media. Through an allegorical reading of his novels one can include him in a postmodernist "tradition" characterized by a constant reflection on what Guy Debord calls "the society of spectacle." The main objective of this research project is that of defining new approaches to postmodern American literature, by underlining some crucial aspects which are believed essential to the understanding of this literary tradition. First of all the thesis differentiates two generations of American postmodernist writers: a "traditional" one, which includes authors like Pynchon, DeLillo, but also Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy; and a contemporary one, that uses postmodern narrative techniques with different scopes: that of David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers. The book concentrates exclusively on the first of these two generations and recognizes, in the works of Pynchon, DeLillo, and McCarthy, a unique common subject: America, as the country of Baudrillard's Simulacra and the society of spectacle par excellence. This generation of writers (all were born in the 30's) made of television and other visual media the core of their novels, and narrated the way in which images and their rhetoric interacted with American society. Using American postmodern literature as a mirror to penetrate and understand mass media spectacles, and to recognize the technological structures by which they are molded, is a way to open a new perspective in the analysis of mass media's influence over American society during the second half of twentieth century and up to the present time. In this way the thesis also tries to contribute in the building of a theoretical apparatus the would completely re-shape and re-invent the study of postmodernism in literature. A lot has been written and said on the role of mass media, images, and movies in postmodern American literature. Many essays about the subject have been written on singular authors, together with some comparative studies, but it has never been produced a comprehensive analytical work that would encompass this different contributions and move toward a re-definition of the link between mass media and American literature in the twentieth century. Nobody, moreover, has ever worked on including Cormac McCarthy in this postmodern tradition described above, which is another important objective of the research. This research project would also help to reconstruct a different approach on media studies, using literature as a tool to comprehend society and the technologies that mold it. Mass media are not isolated from other narrative forms, and so is contemporary literature. It is important to see how they relate with each other and what they can say about each other. The allegorical reading of the texts which characterizes the method of analysis in the research project, is a crucial characteristic of the thesis. It has been already pointed out by many critics (Hutcheon, Madsen, Huyssens) that all the attempts to define postmodernist fiction within the dichotomy realism/experimentalism have exhausted their analytic potential. It is therefore necessary to rethink postmodern literature in terms of its innate and self-conscious awareness of the arbitrary nature of language. All the works that are analyzed in the thesis exhibit a sustained allegoric structure, especially when one thinks of allegory as a process of interpretation that mediates between the individual consciousness and culture. This becomes particularly evident in a reading of the novels as allegories of the relationship between the individual and the overwhelming power of mass media. This method of analysis helps also to configure historically postmodernism within the American tradition, whereas that tradition, since its origins (Hawthorne, Melville), always had a strong allegorical character, which differentiated it from other literary traditions of the nineteenth century.
Appears in Collections:X_Dipartimento di Studi americani
T - Tesi di dottorato

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