Postmodern aesthetics and political dissent: Strategies of resistance in American postmodern fiction

Todd A Hoffman, Purdue University


American postmodern fiction has often been attacked for being more concerned with linguistic playfulness and a cavalier lack of concern for human suffering than serious consideration of issues of existential or political import. This dissertation argues that such critics are misguided because they still presume a political efficacy to art based upon the monadic, Ego-centered subject who, through recognition of his/her condition, can effect revolutionary change. However, postmodernity has altered the social and cultural landscape. Multi-national capitalism (postmodernity) can utilize teletechnologies to coerce and co-opt all dissident discourses in order to legitimate vested interests. Subjects are constructed as consuming agents inextricably bound up in a totalizing system that validates its own profit-driven power. Despite its full integration into the system, American postmodern fiction (postmodernism) has developed alternative methods of expressing political dissent to postmodernity. The foregoing analysis elucidates these diverse political aesthetic dissenting strategies, all of which are based on a hermeneutics of suspicion. These anarchic and idiosyncratic aesthetic methods can be found in the uniquely experimental forms of certain contemporary American texts. Particular attention is devoted to Thomas Pynchon, Grace Paley, and Ishmael Reed. Furthermore, this study utilizes a variety of thinkers to examine the contemporary moment as a function of late capitalism. Foremost among these thinkers is Deleuze and Guattari, whose philosophy of multiplicity, immanence, and anti-dialecticism is applied to American postmodern texts in order to elucidate the political dissidence to be found there. Herbert Marcuse, Jean Baudrillard, Francois Lyotard, George Bataille, Frederic Jameson and Linda Hutcheon are also prominent in the discussion. Lastly, postmodernism is described in terms of being an "anti-genre genre" and a prophetic versus an apocalyptic literature to further demonstrate the formal and aesthetic aspects of its political dissidence.




Duvall, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American literature|Philosophy|Political science

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