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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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III. Conclusion 173


173 III. Conclusion In the introduction to his multi-volume inquiry into The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault outlines a concept of power which seems to corroborate the dictum that opened this entire discussion on conspiracy fiction; that postmodernism is at its most para- noid when it turns the anthropological gaze inward. Typified by Clifford Geertz on the one hand and Roland Barthes on the other, the gaze of Western scientific traditions is always inextricably tied to the issue of power. For Barthes, it is the power to replace the hidden truth about the world we live in with the subject's affirmation of autonomy. This call for individual empowerment, counterbalanced by Geertz's comparably modest request for a better understanding of ourselves through the encounter with another culture, can be heard as a faint echo in Foucault's writing whenever he addresses the insidiousness and ubiquity of power. I Although Foucault's model of power is based, as the title of the unfinished series of studies indicates, on an analysis of sexuality rather than the more specific social and discursive practices of conspiracy fiction, it seems to share one fundamental notion about conspiracy with all fiction discussed in the preceding pages. Sexuality, like conspiracy, is as ubiquitous as narrative itself. At first glance, both sexuality and conspiracy appear safely removed from the more "sane," "mainstream," or "normal" discursive practices revolving around the facilitation of power, such as the discourses on politics, medicine, law, economics, historiography, and so forth. When sexuality and conspiracy cross over...

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