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The Language of Self

Strategies of Subjectivity in the Novels of Don DeLillo

Phill Pass

The Language of Self explores the portrayal of subjectivity in Don DeLillo’s fiction. It proposes that his characters’ conception of self is determined by the tension between a desire for connection and a longing for isolation. The particular form taken by this language of self is shown to be both shaped by, and in turn formed through, an interaction with larger, social constructions of agency. In order to explore this phenomenon from both an individual and a social perspective, the author undertakes detailed close readings of DeLillo’s texts, informed by nuanced theoretical analysis which stresses the symbiotic interaction of social and individual context.
This method informs the structure of the book, which is divided into three sections. The first, entitled ‘Dasein’, conceptualises how DeLillo’s characters navigate between isolation and connection, shaping a particular enunciation of self which reflects the balance they strike between self and other. ‘Phenomenology’, the second section, explores how DeLillo’s treatment of language and image alters this balance and examines the sustainability of each enunciation of self. The final section, ‘Das Man’, addresses how the language of self shapes, and is shaped by, a wider social context.


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Section 3 Das Man


Chapter 5 ‘Capital burns of f the nuance in a culture’1: Consumption, Capital, Chrimatistikós and the Middle American Enunciation of Self Building upon the discussions undertaken above, this third section of the monograph will explore how Dasein’s negotiation of isolation and connec- tion, mediated through the phenomenology of denotation and image, helps to form, sustain or contest wider enunciations of Self. It is through partici- pation in collective forms of signification, undertaken in the media of λόγoς and phenomenon (Φαινόμενον), that these wider social enunciations occur. The first of these signifiying practices, consumption, will form the subject of this chapter. Proposing an historically contingent model of consump- tion, the following analysis traces the transition from the signification of local, ethnic commodities, to an increasingly national mediation of taste which is concomitant with the growing hegemony of what DeLillo terms as the Middle American ‘land of lawns’ (DeLillo, Mao II, p. 9); what this chapter will argue is a particular public enunciation of Self and the most prevalent US form of das Man. It will be argued, however, that the very mass media and advertising which brought this Middle American, public enunciation to prominence, also contains the seeds of its contestation. The role of the simulacra in mass communication will be shown to create a disjunct between concrete commodity and consumption, leading to the rise of hyperreal capital. An exploration of the concept of Chrimatistikós will then demonstrate the manner in which Eric Packer, the protagonist of Cosmopolis, attempts to...

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