In one of the foundational documents of an "anti-foundationalist"
postmodernism, Jean-François Lyotard argues that the postmodern
is an aesthetics of the unpresentable, a form of the sublime,
in which new modes of presentation are constantly sought for that
which is finally ineffable. Such is the case in the fiction of
Kathy Acker, who seeks to arrive at a place, a society in Empire
of the Senseless, that exists beyond taboo, that isn't "constructed
according to the phallus," that is wholly outside of the
patriarchy. The work of Don DeLillo describes the irony of our
media ecology, in which the saturation of archived, broadcast,
and electronic information miserably fails to explain the iridescent
sheen of the Airborne Toxic Disaster in White Noise or
the events in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 in Libra.
William Gaddis satirizes our continued attachment to elaborate
systems that have ceased to conform to empirical observation:
the churning of a finance market that bears increasingly little
relation to the demands of labor in J R; and the practice
of law without recourse to justice in A Frolic of His Own.
Nevertheless, Fredric Jameson has proposed that there has been
a "waning of affect," or dedifferentiation, in the expressions
of postmodernism, from the visual arts to literature. But the
suggestion that postmodern fiction, particularly the brand that
has tirelessly sought new modes of presentation, has lapsed into
a degree zero of political critique is not borne out by the work
we will read. Acker's Blood and Guts in High School and
Great Expectations wage a terrorist campaign across the
political spectrum, excoriating (and worse) "fascist"
anti-pornographers, "empathetic" abortion-providers,
and Plath's "Daddy" in any disguise. DeLillo's Underworld
recognizes that waste management is the paradigmatic occupation
in our disposable consumer economy and that the underclass-human
disposability-is the most egregious form of waste.
To supplement the eight novels mentioned here, we will read
some excerpts from the statements on postmodern theory by Lyotard,
Jameson, and Baudrillard, as well as a number of critical assessments
of the fiction by Ellen Friedman, Tom LeClair, Paul Maltby, Frank
Lentricchia, and others.
Seminar participants who are registered intensively will be
required to make a twenty-minute oral presentation and produce
a twenty-page research paper.
Last revised on Tuesday, December 16, 2004.
Copyright © 2004 Joseph M. Conte. All Rights Reserved.