Progressive and Reactionary Attitudes towards Technology in Twentieth Century Literature, 1937-2013
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In this thesis I trace the origins, morphology, and attributes of a particular strain of anti-materialism in the Western literary and cultural imagination of the second half of the twentieth century. With reference to previous work done on this topic I discuss how this anti-materialism rejects materialistic and rationalistic aspects of modernity and emphasises instead the importance of non-material aspects of society such as cultural integrity and cohesion, tradition, and instinct. I demonstrate that this strain relies on what Raymond Williams termed “organic form”, the fallacious belief that human society can and should follow a set of rules which can be objectively deducted from nature and I argue that it should be placed within the context of a long established anti-enlightenment tradition.
Through an analysis of such writers as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, JRR Tolkien, Edward Abbey, James Howard Kunstler, Chuck Palahniuk, Brian Aldiss and others I show how a common feature of this anti-materialism is concern and anxiety over the potentially destabilising or degenerative effects of life in a technologically advanced society where mechanisation, mass production, and scientific advances have brought relative comfort and prosperity to most people in society and hence I refer to this particular strain of anti-materialism as anti-technologism. More specifically, I am interested in this thesis with examining the way in which this reaction allows for a curious confluence and convergence of progressive and reactionary tendencies. I argue that anti-technologism is a distinct and detectable mood in Western literature, and I trace its origins and influences. Without claiming to provide a functionalist analysis, I consider the role of anti-technologism in Western literature which I see as broadly facilitating an exploration and discussion of themes of cultural vitality and cohesion in the increasingly cosmopolitan and technologically advanced societies of the West.