Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Christopher Kocela

Second Advisor

Dr. Martha Singer

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Chase


This dissertation theorizes the ramifications of new media forms of narrative on subjectivization by tracing the evolution of the observer through its permutations as second-order observer, witness, director, and narrative agent and demonstrating the various interacting processes involved in the recursive feedback loops between and among, self, world, and story. In this project, I ex-plore novels by contemporary U.S. authors John Barth, Richard Powers, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace, as well as two televisual texts, Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse. Drawing from several seemingly disparate theories, I situate my argument in the interstices of systems theory (Luhmann, Clarke), psychoanalysis (Lacan, Butler), media theory (Ellis, Fiske, Buonanno), and posthuman theory (Hayles, Badmington), putting forth a theoretical lens I call posthuman narrative onto-epistemology. The study thus fits into overlapping critical conversations. The extended treatment of five contemporary American novels situates Storied Subjects in conversations surrounding postmodernism and posthumanism as well as conversations surrounding these particular authors. For example, in the first chapter, I argue that the John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy and Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2 incorporate the observer from systems theory into the narrative frame, catalyzing an ontological and epistemological shift. In the second chapter, I show the ways in which Don DeLillo’s novels White Noise and Underworld demonstrate what John Ellis calls the “witness” ontology as well as the evolution of that ontology into what I call the “direc-tor” in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In addition, the chapter devoted to televisual texts intervenes in an important, though often marginalized, conversation surrounding the importance of situating televisual narratives in dialogue with print fiction, arguing that we must attend to TV texts if we are to understand the texture of contemporary print fiction, which is saturated with the language of TV. In the final chapter, I explore the development of the “narrative agent” ontology, examining both form and content of the televisual texts Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse in order to argue that, once second-order observation reaches a prolonged critical awareness, the observer’s observation runs alongside her or his ability to intervene in the narrative, which allows for changing the story itself.