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The Anxiety of Obsolescence

The American Novel in the Age of Television

Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Publication Year: 2006

It almost goes without saying that the rise in popularity of television has killed the audience for “serious" literature. This is such a given that reading Fitzpatrick's challenge to this notion can be very disconcerting, as she traces the ways in which a small cadre of writers of "serious" literature--DeLillo, Pynchon, and Franzen, for instance--have propagated this myth in order to set themselves up as the last bastions of good writing. Fitzpatrick first explores whether serious literature was ever as all-pervasive as critics of the television culture claim and then asks the obvious question: what, or who, exactly, are these guys defending good writing against? Fitzpatrick examines the ways in which the anxiety about the supposed death of the novel is built on a myth of the novel's past ubiquity and its present displacement by television. She explores the ways in which this myth plays out in and around contemporary fiction and how it serves as a kind of unacknowledged discourse about race, class, and gender. The declaration constructs a minority status for the “white male author” who needs protecting from television's largely female and increasingly non-white audience. The novel, then, is transformed from a primary means of communication into an ancient, almost forgotten, and thus, treasured form reserved for the well-educated and well-to-do, and the men who practice it are exalted as the practitioners of an almost lost art. Such positioning serves to further marginalize women writers and writers of color because it makes the novel, by definition, the preserve of the poor endangered white man. If the novel is only a product of a small group of white men, how can the contributions of women and writers of color be recognized? Instead, this positioning abandons women and people of color to television as a creative outlet, and in return, cedes television to them. Fitzpatrick argues that there's a level of unrecognized patronization in assuming that television serves no purpose but to provide dumb entertainment to bored women and others too stupid to understand novels. And, instead, she demonstrates the real positive effects of a televisual culture.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

Any text such as this one owes its existence to countless individuals and institutions that have supported its coming into being, and any expression of gratitude seems destined for inadequacy. Such an inadequacy in what follows should be understood as a failure in the expression, rather than the absence, of sincere emotion. ...

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Introduction: The Anxiety of Obsolescence

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pp. 1-9

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and has been since the invention of television. So, at least, seems to be the argument made by a range of cultural critics, both from the Right and from the Left, both academics and public intellectuals, both those who publish in highbrow venues and those who publish in more popular locales, both those who write fiction and those who write nonfiction. ...

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1: Three Discourses on the Age of Television

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pp. 11-57

“The death of the novel is here again,” writes Natasha Walter in a 1996 report on the state of the British publishing industry. “It’s a standing joke among newspapers’ literary editors trying to find a story. Shall we commission the ‘books are out’ piece, or shall we commission the one that proves ‘books are back’?” (Walter). This endless—and ostensibly meaningless—circulation and ...

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2: Machine

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pp. 58-97

At an early moment in Thomas Pynchon’s V., the reader is introduced to the members of the Whole Sick Crew, a loose coalition of alienated youth cavorting about 1955 Manhattan. As the narration emphasizes, each member of the Crew participates in an “exhausted impersonation” of bohemian artiness, a kind of Beat-lite, in which aesthetic and social rebellion fail to find either a stable position to revolt against or a sufficiently shocking “new.” Slab, for ...

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3: Spectacle

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pp. 98-148

David’s television, which has drawn him in, and holds him fast, acts in a manner quite different from Pynchon’s television, into which the couch potatoes of the past are physically wired. Here, the television’s “meshed effect” produces a new kind of intertwining of human and television set, one that functions “as if ” human perception were required to complete the broadcast. In this ...

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4: Network

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pp. 149-200

Fergus Mixolydian in Pynchon’s V. and David Bell in DeLillo’s Americana, in their peculiar relationships to the television set, reveal the anxieties about mechanicity and visuality explored in the novel of obsolescence; each allows the novelist room to explore the putative threat that television presents to the novel’s future, while simultaneously valorizing the novel for its resistance to ...

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5: Obsolescence, the Marginal,and the Popular

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pp. 201-233

Throughout this book, my intent has been to explore a particular group of postmodern novels by arguing not merely for a specific way of reading these texts but for a particular kind of hermeneutic in the textual encounter. This interpretive method looks to cultural studies in its exploration less of specific artifacts than of the circulation of discourses and ideas about those artifacts. By structuring my argument about the anxiety of obsolescence as a fruitful mode ...


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pp. 235-248


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pp. 249-257


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pp. 259-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592101
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826515193
Print-ISBN-10: 0826515193

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 592756212
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Anxiety of Obsolescence

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Subject Headings

  • Nischik, Reingard M.
  • Television broadcasting -- United States -- Influence.
  • Literacy -- United States.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
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