The postmodern toon : (Totalitarian) "Fascism", violence, and cartoons in postmodernist literature about America.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis sets out to investigate the representation of politics as a cartoon in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland, and to apply what we find to Bret Easton Ellis's controversial American Psycho. This investigation will also hold implications for other postmodernist literature, and for the possibility of constructing a “postmodern” politics capable of opposing the political order depicted in Pynchon’s novels. Pynchon hints at such a politics, but tends to focus his writing on diagnosing reasons for their failure rather than prescribing for their success. Pynchon and Ellis both depict late, “postmodern” “spectacle” capitalist cultural environments as being in important respects “totalitarian” and “fascist”. At the same time, the novels associate “fascism” with cartoons. After initial chapters describing the place of both cartoons and politics in the novels under discussion, the three following chapters explore the three novels' politics in more depth and seek to justify a reading of their environments as being an amalgam of totalitarianism and fascism, or what I will call “(totalitarian) ‘fascism’”. These chapters identify and apply the concept of “Liminal Processes Favouring Totality” as an explanation for the existence of fascist structures and personalities in a late capitalist environment. Over the course of the final six chapters, the argument changes direction to explore the signification of “cartoons”, which are found to support a cultural meaning wider than that of drawings or animations. This wider metaphoric meaning is, broadly, the diminishment of representation to below three dimensions. The attachment of this signification to “cartoons” allows me to show that a “democratic” “postmodern” politics which is able to resist “Liminal Processes Favouring Totality” emerges from a reading of both Pynchon’s and Ellis’s texts. Ironically, in order to energize this sort of political response, both Gravity’s Rainbow and American Psycho in particular are designed to affect the reader outside the world of the text they are reading, that is, in that very reality many critics say postmodernism denies.