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Nihilism, self-destruction and the (im)possibility of escape in contemporary transgressive fictions

M’Rabty, Rachid (2019) Nihilism, self-destruction and the (im)possibility of escape in contemporary transgressive fictions. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The proliferation of violence and transgression in mainstream media and society is often cited as undermining the radical impact of transgression or subversion within contemporary literature. This thesis, however, argues that a self-destructive ethos of resistance resonates in transgressive fiction, since 1990. Throughout this dissertation, I consider the significant works of four key contemporary writers, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, J.G. Ballard and Thomas Ligotti, to explore responses to cultural, political and philosophical discontent and readdress the value of transgression in what I loosely term fictions of self-destruction. Their fictions, I posit, explore acts and fantasies of corporeal, metaphysical and suicidal self-destruction as the key philosophical and affective issues at stake for the protagonists who seek to articulate a divergent response to, or escape from, existential and socio-political factors or concerns. These authors (to varying extents) set a new benchmark for a philosophically controversial (or negativistic) mode of literary transgression. Moreover, the critical relevance of self-destruction as a subversive fantasy is now even more crucial, particularly when attempting to re-validate transgressive literatures as a satirical, artistic form that responds to palpable socio-political and existential concerns related to a nihilistic culture, the naturalisation of the logic of excess and consumption, and the supposed horror of existence. This thesis examines how these fictions engage with self-destructive tropes and ideas as a means of distraction or escape in a world devoid of feasible alternative. In this way, this study of entropic and philosophical self-destruction in contemporary literature does not necessarily propose any practical solutions or a new kind of radical politics applicable in the real world. It does, however, regard self-destructive and fatalistic transgressions as pertaining to an otherwise impossible fantasy of escape from or resistance to the intolerable postmodern and neoliberal worlds presented in these fictions. At stake in this thesis, then, is the establishment of self-destruction as a central concern within studies of literary transgression in contemporary fiction that follows the revalidation of increasingly controversial or denigrated concepts of literary transgression.

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