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"Desperate Fictions": Space, Identity and Indeterminacy in William Gaddis and Don DeLillo

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posted on 2021-11-03, 22:23 authored by Garlick, Timothy

Don DeLillo has frequently acknowledged William Gaddis as a significant influence, particularly in his concern with the vagaries of self-identity. DeLillo's The Body Artist (2001) and Gaddis's Carpenter's Gothic (1985) both thematically explore the relationship between self and space, employing gothic motifs and metafictional devices which intersect with the dramatic content of the novel, in which characters experience disruption to the stability of the known and located. In both, even the most intimate knowledge of relationships and environments is portrayed as a contingent construction, open to radical revision. As has been acknowledged by a number of critics, the transitory nature of postmodern spatiality is a central thematic preoccupation of both writers. The novels of both writers confront postmodern space by the way they complicate processes of identification and communication through a formalist evocation of indeterminacy. However differences become apparent in a careful comparison of their larger works. In Gaddis's J R (1975) Gaddis attempts to govern this indeterminacy in the service of cultural critique; rhetorically manipulating readerly identification in the service of an overall vision of decline. DeLillo's Underworld (1997), on the other hand, destabilizes meaning, and as a result the reader is directed towards a more ambivalent relationship to postmodern existence.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Meffan, James