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Conspiracy and Paranoia in Contemporary American Fiction

The Works of Don DeLillo and Joseph McElroy


Steffen Hantke

Under the influence of Thomas Pynchon, a generation of postmodern American writers has explored the theme of conspiracy and paranoia, its origins in contemporary American culture, and its political and ideological ramifications. This intense preoccupation with paranoid forms of conceptual organization has helped critics to represent postmodernism as a coherent phenomenon and define it as a period. While for many readers the assumption of periodic homogeneity is still valid, postmodern fiction has, in fact, been diversifying rapidly in the course of its development over the last 20 years. In the works of Don DeLillo and Joseph McElroy, a new set of narrative premises, which mark a significant paradigmatic shift within postmodern American fiction, has begun to emerge from the dialogic interplay with Pynchonesque paranoia.


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II. The Works of Don DeLillo and Joseph McElroy 37


37 II. The Writing of Don DeLillo and Joseph McElroy I. White Noise and The Letter Left To Me: The Trope of Hyperbole Conservative political wisdom has it that the family is one of the cornerstones in any citizen's sentimental education. It is supposed to be a force that will preserve moral in- tegrity in the most corrupt of societies and guarantee historical continuity and stability, par- ticularly amidst the evils of what is often referred to as "the postmodern condition." Also, the family can provide the individual with a sense of community in an environment built on rugged individualism--an expectation that is especially valid for American society. Underlying these optimistic views is the assumption that the family is a strong unit, held together by reliable ties, and that it therefore manages to withstand all kinds of pressure, from the outside as well as from within. The observation that the family in American society may, in reality, not conform to these claims at particular moments in history has bwught critics, particularly on the conser- vative side of the political spectrum, face to face with the embarrassing problem that their theories seem more prescriptive than descriptive. How is it possible that this basic unit of society, whose strength and resistance to outside forces was considered vital for survival in a hostile world, was found in a state of dissolution after the 1950s, a period immortalized as the quiet before the storm in the popular imagination? Explanations vary with the indi- vidual...

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