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Deserting Society: Fiction and Travel in the Shadow of the Bomb, 1945–91

McCann, Mat (2015) Deserting Society: Fiction and Travel in the Shadow of the Bomb, 1945–91. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

This thesis looks at literary responses to the Bomb as the greatest threat to humanity, examining English-language texts written between the destruction of Hiroshima and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Specifically, it investigates the representation of nuclear paranoia and the desert as a site of Cold War experience. The Cold War security-state used discourse about the threat of the Bomb to inspire conformist paranoia among its citizens. However, excessive paranoia can lead to dissociation and non-conformity. Those in dissociative states commonly display pre-emptive tendencies, desiring to make their environment conform to their world-view. Accordingly, the Cold War citizen might wish for the Bomb to drop in order to escape their paranoia. Since the Bomb turns society into a wasteland, flight to the archetypal wasteland of the Sahara effectively precipitates nuclear-apocalypse. Free from the shadow of the Bomb, the desert can become the site of a society free of fear. By travelling from Jean Baudrillard's 'desert of the real' to the real desert, however, these citizens move from a place of paranoia to the birthplace of the Bomb. Their perception of the desert as a space outside society shows that they have not escaped society's constructs. The desert's disruption of these constructs, however, offers a perspective on their cultural formation and so a new narrative by which to live. The thesis examines texts which feature Westerners travelling to the African desert by Paul Bowles, Saul Bellow, Thomas Pynchon, Lawrence Durrell, Penelope Lively and Michael Ondaatje. It argues that the Bomb lurks in the unconsciousness of the writers and their protagonists, inducing the individual to travel. With this in mind, it investigates whether the age-old idea of flight to the desert can resolve the stand-off within the individual between the narratives imposed by society and those constructed through personal experience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Bomb; Cold War; desert; Jean Baudrillard; Lawrence Durrell; Michael Ondaatje; paranoia; Paul Bowles; Penelope Lively; Sahara; Saul Bellow; Thomas Pynchon
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Dr Mat McCann
Date Deposited: 26 May 2016 15:14
Last Modified: 26 May 2016 15:14
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/12437

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