Date of Award

4-21-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Chris Kocela - Chair

Second Advisor

Nancy Chase

Third Advisor

Marti Singer

Abstract

Within the science fiction genre, utopian as well as dystopian experiments have found equal representation. This balanced treatment of two diametrically opposed social constructs results from a focus on the future for which this particular genre is well known. Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17, and Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby, more aptly characterized as speculative fiction because of its use of magic against scientific social subjugation, each tackle dystopian qualities of contemporary society by analyzing the power that language possesses in the formation of the self and propagation of ideology. The utopian goals of these texts advocate for a return to the modernist metanarrative and a revision of postmodern cynicism because the authors look to the future for hopeful solutions to the social and ideological problems of today. Using Slavoj Žižek’s readings of Jacques Lacan and Theodor Adorno’s readings of Karl Marx for critical insight, I argue these four novels imagine language as the key to personal empowerment and social change. While not all of the novels achieve their utopian goals, they each evince a belief that the attempt belies a return to the modernist metanarrative and a rejection of postmodern helplessness. Thus, each novel imagines the revision of Žižek’s big Other through the remainders of Adorno’s inevitably failed revolutions, injecting hope in a literary period that had long since lost it.

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