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Title:The media assemblage: the twentieth-century novel in dialogue with film, television, and new media
Author(s):Hackman, Paul S.
Director of Research:Rothberg, Michael
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Rothberg, Michael
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Markley, Robert; Hansen, James A.; Curry, Ramona
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Twentieth-century novel
media assemblage
American literature
Abstract:At several moments during the twentieth-century, novelists have been made acutely aware of the novel as a medium due to declarations of the death of the novel. Novelists, at these moments, have found it necessary to define what differentiates the novel from other media and what makes the novel a viable form of art and communication in the age of images. At the same time, writers have expanded the novel form by borrowing conventions from these newer media. I describe this process of differentiation and interaction between the novel and other media as a “media assemblage” and argue that our understanding of the development of the novel in the twentieth century is incomplete if we isolate literature from the other media forms that compete with and influence it. The concept of an assemblage describes a historical situation in which two or more autonomous fields interact and influence one another. On the one hand, an assemblage is composed of physical objects such as TV sets, film cameras, personal computers, and publishing companies, while, on the other hand, it contains enunciations about those objects such as claims about the artistic merit of television, beliefs about the typical audience of a Hollywood blockbuster, or academic discussions about canonicity. These disparate forces that make up an assemblage are in constant flux as new participants in the assemblage destabilize old relationships and create new ones. Through the use of assemblage theory I am able to look at both the material circumstances that differentiate novels from newer media and the enunciations that have sought to define new territory for fiction apart from film, television, or new media. Each of the first three chapters focuses on a distinct medium at a different moment in the twentieth century. Chapter One examines novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West written in the 1930s. Both novelists spent time working in Hollywood, hoping to make money writing for the rapidly growing film industry. West and Fitzgerald criticize Hollywood even though both were attracted to film and developed writing techniques influenced by their time working as screenwriters. Both writers use a beautiful but shallow young woman as their symbolic representation of Hollywood, a woman who entices and angers the male protagonist. Such an ambivalent and sexist response, I argue, corresponds to the conflicted feelings of the novelists towards the new medium of film and its potential effects on the novel. Chapter Two pairs two novels from the middle of the century, Richard Yates’s domestic novel Revolutionary Road and Jerzy Kosinski’s satire Being There. Both novels bemoan the superficial quality of much of American life post World War II, manifesting their critique in attacks on television and its negative effects on the family and politics, respectively. Both novels connect television to an emasculated male protagonist, arguing that television contributes to a passive and unsophisticated populace. Yet, television’s ability to instantly connect millions of people through a common experience and blur the distinction between private and public life proves attractive to the characters and influential on the writing styles of the novels. Chapter Three brings together a print novel and a hypertext novel from the mid-90s. Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2 asks whether a computer can be trained to impersonate an English graduate student while Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl brings to life the monstrous female companion from Frankenstein as the hypertext novel itself. Both texts discuss the future of the material medium of print through the metaphor of the female body. The protagonist of Galatea interweaves his sexual feelings with his love of the printed page, reversing the gender associations made by Fitzgerald and West sixty years earlier, while Patchwork Girl criticizes the association of the female body with hypertext. Interestingly, the print novel overloads the reader with information and allusions that require frequent references to the internet while the hypertext novel depends on allusions to print to give structure and stability to its malleable electronic form. The final chapter moves away from analyzing individual media assemblages to looking at how media assemblages change over time. I organize Don DeLillo’s expansive novel Underworld into three separate assemblages active during the Cold War. In so doing I go against the tendency in the scholarship to read DeLillo’s novel as critical of or influenced by some monolithic entity known as “the mass media.” Instead, the complex relationships at work in not just one static media assemblage but the dynamic shifts between assemblages correspond to the complicated paranoia evoked by the Cold War. After analyzing how one novel attempts to better understand the past through changes in the American media assemblage, my epilogue examines how a number of science fiction novels, imagine the media assemblages of the future. As these novels describe a future after the hypothetical death of print they reveal that a media assemblage is much more than a set of technologies, but instead a web of fears, ideologies, and definitions that describe the role of the novelist within the culture. Each of the selected texts makes media a significant part of the narrative, but ultimately the ideas produced by placing the novel within a media assemblage should be useful for better understanding any novel’s position in relation to the dynamic mediascape of its time. Even writers that do not specifically address the status of the novel or acknowledge the influence of other media write within a media context that defines conventions of realism, style, and content, and the relationship of the novel to other media becomes interwoven with definitions of art, history, and gender. Reading the twentieth century novel in relationship to other media is not one critical option among many but, rather, an essential reconfiguration of the field.
Issue Date:2010-08-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Paul S. Hackman
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-08-20
Date Deposited:2010-08

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