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Establishing the Continuum: Postmodernism, Twenty-First Century Culture, and American Fiction

Graham, M. J. (2020) Establishing the Continuum: Postmodernism, Twenty-First Century Culture, and American Fiction. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis argues postmodernism is altered and repeated rather than succeeded, producing a postmodern continuum that stretches into the twenty-first century. Initially, a selection of canonical late twentieth century American postmodern texts are analysed (Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club). These novels are used to illustrate the anxieties over advanced capitalism’s totalising dominance that are repeated in contemporary American culture. Next, a variety of twenty-first century novels are interrogated (Amanda Filipacchi’s Love Creeps, Zané Sachs’ Sadie: The Sadist, Dennis Cooper’s God Jr. and Zac’s Control Panel, Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, and Tao Lin’s Taipei). These texts demonstrate a selection of the discrete ways that postmodernism is repeated in contemporary American fiction. The chapters focus upon cultural integration, reapplication, counter-intuitive replication, and politicised nostalgia as distinct yet related ways that postmodern aesthetics are repeated in contemporary American culture. Together, these novels trace a shift within postmodernism since its peak in eighties American culture. These forms of repetition illustrate the distinct and at times contradictory ways a postmodern continuum persists, providing a new way of considering its connection to the present moment. By prioritising repetitions of postmodernism over its succession, this thesis stages an intervention that provides an original contribution to knowledge. It considers the marginalised connection to postmodernism in literary scholarship, particularly critics who articulate a succession from postmodernism while drawing upon its texts and aesthetics. It also interrogates how the plurality of theories defining an ‘after’ postmodernism internalise and repeat its methodological practices, particularly the inability to construct alternative grand narratives. I argue these attempts to define an ‘after’ postmodernism stand-in for an inability to succeed advanced capitalism, producing a distinct way of connecting postmodern aesthetics and contemporary American culture. Postmodern aesthetics continue to provide ways of depicting a complex reality, establishing an overlooked stage of postmodernism considered here through forms of repetition, which establish a twenty-first century postmodern continuum.

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