Postmodern materialism: things, people, and the remaking of the social in contemporary American narrative

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Matthew Ryan Mullins (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Christian Moraru

Abstract: This dissertation reexamines the critical orthodoxies of postmodern American literature by attending to the everyday objects that populate the worlds of narrative texts written from the 1960s to the first decade of the new millennium. Whereas the majority of literary and cultural critics, from Fredric Jameson to Linda Hutcheon to K. Anthony Appiah, argue that postmodernism can be best understood in terms of a commitment to the demystification of social arrangements that seem natural, this project proposes that what makes literature postmodern is a dedication to the ongoing material construction of the social. Beginning with the most mundane items in works of fiction by Leslie Marmon Silko, Don DeLillo, John Barth, Toni Morrison, and others, "Postmodern Materialism" charts the complex interactions of vast arrays of subjects and objects in the assembly of social groups. The resulting inquiry offers two important benefits: 1) a new approach to postmodernism in general through a rereading of postmodern fiction; 2) a unique methodology for assessing the relationship between things and people that reveals the fluidity of, and thus the possibility for remaking, our social structures. By showcasing the simplest components of the social, the project of postmodernism can be seen, I maintain, as calling our attention not so much away from ourselves and our preoccupations as toward the material world that we all share. Such a shift in consideration does necessitate, however, a theoretical movement away from human essence as the gravitational center of our social relations, thus precluding an overly reductive comparison between people that more often than not results in the exclusion, alienation, or marginalization of individuals and groups based on actual or perceived differences. Along these lines, I conclude that postmodern fiction is especially well-suited for a critical remaking of the social because it is attuned to the ways in which the social is constantly being fashioned by the world of material objects.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Materialism, Narrative, Objects, Postmodernism, Social, Things
Postmodernism (Literature) $z United States
Materialism in literature
American literature $y 20th century $x History and criticism
American literature $y 21st century $x History and criticism

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