POSTMODERNISM: SURVIVING THE APOCALYPSE

David Lohrey
2014 CAESURA 1   unpublished
This paper discusses how key American writers take the tragic narrative beyond personal disappointment into an arena of political catastrophe, with the following aims: 1. to throw more light on the discourse content and structure of postwar novels by writers such as Don DeLillo and John Edgar Wideman; 2. to identify the place of apocalyptic thought in their work. Postcolonial theory and discourse analysis provide the theoretical framework for this study of the wider implications of American
more » ... rialism to the society at large as shown in key works by these writers. In the case of Wideman, that instability is mirrored by his narrative techniques, which undermine traditional modes of narrativity as the societal monolith is undermined. Don DeLillo's text also presents a society in flux, by presenting events which undermine stability and uniformity. Neither of these writers searches for the means of imposing singularity on the extremes they depict, but seek to embrace the heterogeneity they face. These writers show an America home-front undermined and threatened by dissolution, imperial hegemony gradually evolving into an imposed and permanent state of exception. In their writings can be seen a larger project, which takes as its subject the prospect of an American imperialism at war with its own people, a process whereby imperialism develops into domestic totalitarianism. The end of civilization is considered as the prospect of an American imperialism unable to differentiate between internal and external enemies. The echoes of 20th century war can be heard in narratives of late century American fiction by John Edgar Wideman and Don DeLillo. This paper will show how accounts of urban collapse employ imagery from the First and Second World Wars to express the authors' contention that the types of political disorder seen earlier in the century can be found today in America. These two writers depict varying degrees of civic collapse, overshadowed by the spectre of apocalypse. Depictions of urban collapse are juxtaposed with scenes of the absence of authority or the abuse of power in the hands of those whose authority lacks legitimacy. The society is shown to be under assault. Problems of social class are addressed, but the authors are more concerned with the emergence of the American mass, ill-defined, undiffer-entiated, but equally helpless in the face of abuse and neglect.
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