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Models of consciousness in the novels of Don Delillo

Bird, Benjamin (2005) Models of consciousness in the novels of Don Delillo. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis argues that an appreciation of Don DeLillo's engagement with the problems of post-war philosophy of mind is essential to a full understanding of his work. It suggests that he examines various forms of scepticism that prevail in the postmodern treatment of consciousness and traces the disorientation to which they lead, especially the obstacles they present to the formation and development of subjectivity. Much previous criticism has tended to assume that DeLillo regards consciousness as effectively powerless, entrapped and determined by the action of all-powerful systems, whether technological, linguistic, or economic. By contrast, this thesis acknowledges the partial autonomy that DeLillo grants consciousness and notes his exploration of the various epistemologies open to it in contemporary culture. I argue that DeLillo's first six novels survey crucial questions in contemporary debates about consciousness, particularly those raised by the materialism and, paradoxically, the extreme intellectual abstraction characteristic of postmodern Western culture. Notable among these early themes are the reality and reliability of consciousness; the relationship between mind and body; the analogy between mind and computer; the properties of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and the rational and intuitive modes of thought that they are said to govern. I suggest that DeLillo's subsequent novels are increasingly preoccupied by intuitive models of consciousness that allow mind a considerably greater ontological status than that accorded to it in postmodem culture. These range from the implication, in The Names (1982) and White Noise (1984), that mind may be more powerful than language, or the prospect of death, to the communal model of consciousness that prevails in Libra (198 8), Mao 11 (199 1), and Underworld (1997), which, I argue, is close to the model outlined in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's work on schizophrenia. DeLillo's most recent novels, The Body Artist (2001) and Cosmopolis (2003), explore the possibility of a search for 'root identity', or consciousness as such, which, although seemingly driven by a desire to escape culture, remains quintessentially postmodern in its emulation of contemporary science's desire to account for the enigmatic relation between mind and body.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 18 Dec 2009 11:12
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:43
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/163

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