Can't get no satisfaction : commodity culture in fiction
Lindner, Christoph Perrin
Drawing on recent thinking in critical and cultural theory, this thesis examines the representation of commodity culture in a selected body of nineteenth and twentieth century fiction. In so doing, it explains how the commodity, as capitalism's representational agent, created and sustained a culture of its own in the nineteenth century, and how that culture, still with us today, has persisted and evolved over the course of the twentieth century. It follows the commodity and the cultural forms it generates through their historical development. And it considers how fiction, from realism through modernism and into postmodernism, accommodates and responds both to the commodity's increasingly loud cultural presence and to its colonization of the social imagination and its desires. The study begins by examining responses to the rise of commodity culture in Victorian social novels before moving on to explore how key issues raised in nineteenth century writing resurface and are reshaped in first early modernist and then postmodernist fiction. The chapters focus, in turn, on Gaskell and the casualties of industrialism, carnivals of consumption in Thackeray, Trollope's 'material girl,' decay in Conrad, and shopping with DeLillo. Together, they argue that the task of assessing commodity culture's impact on identity and agency represents a dominant concern in literary production from the mid-nineteenth century onwards; and that both the commodity and the consumer world through which it circulates find ambivalent expression in the narratives that represent them. Finally, and as its title suggests, the thesis finds that the commodity figures throughout the fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a living object of consumer fetish that excites desire yet strangely denies satisfaction.