Focusing on Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, this essay examines what I term “dramas of immediacy” in recent North American fiction. Postmodern novels of the 1980s and 1990s were defined in part by their interest in the way in which narrative shaped our experience, particularly in instances of extreme oppression; considering any straightforward attempt to represent violence as a reenactment of the violence in question, these novels substituted complex meta-analysis of the way we remember and narrativize trauma for representation of the trauma itself. In contrast, I suggest, Oryx and Crake and other recent novels are reversing this process, drawing the fleshly reality of suffering to the immediate present of the text through various mechanisms of form and content. Placing this shift in relation to poststructuralist theory, I argue that maintaining an ethical distance from the oppressed other was the signature gesture of postmodern anti-instrumentality; given this tradition, nothing says the end of anti-instrumentality quite like the immediacy of abject, oppressed bodies. I read Oryx and Crake as a novel about the crisis of the anti-instrumental impulse, arguing that its curiously formulaic design offers another means by which it dramatizes the poverty of the anti-instrumental tradition in the current political landscape. Ultimately, I suggest, we may understand these dramas of immediacy, and the related interest in those suffering from human rights abuses, as a symptomatic response to neoliberalism, which has seemingly rendered the tradition of anti-instrumentalism obsolete.
Research Article|August 01 2009
Jane Elliott; The Return of the Referent in Recent North American Fiction: Neoliberalism and Narratives of Extreme Oppression. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 349–354. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-026
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