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Insistence of the Material

Insistence of the Material: Literature in the Age of Biopolitics

Christopher Breu
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 264
  • Book Info
    Insistence of the Material
    Book Description:

    Insistence of the Materialengages with recent theories of materiality and biopolitics to provide a radical reinterpretation of experimental fiction in the second half of the twentieth century. In contrast to readings that emphasize the metafictional qualities of these works, Christopher Breu examines this literature's focus on the material conditions of everyday life, from the body to built environments, and from ecosystems to economic production.

    InInsistence of the Material, Breu rethinks contemporary understandings of biopolitics, affirming the importance of forms of materiality that refuse full socialization and resist symbolic manipulation. Breu considers a range of novels that reflect questions of materiality in a biopolitical era, including William Burroughs'sNaked Lunch, Thomas Pynchon'sV., J. G. Ballard'sCrash, Dodie Bellamy'sThe Letters of Mina Harker, and Leslie Marmon Silko'sAlmanac of the Dead. Drawing from accounts of the emergence of immaterial production and biopolitics by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Breu reveals the confrontational dimensions of materiality itself in a world devoted to the idea of its easy malleability and transcendence.

    Taking his analysis beyond the boundaries of literature, Breu argues that both materiality and subjectivity form sites of resistance to biopolitical control and that new developments in materialist theory advance a conception of social existence in which materiality-rather than language or culture-is the central term.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4283-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE: Origin Story
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Theorizing Materiality in the Age of Biopolitics
    (pp. 1-34)

    This book takes materiality as its object. In doing so, it is, by necessity, inadequate to this object. One of the central arguments ofInsistence of the Materialis that the various forms of materiality in contemporary social existence—the materiality of the body, the object world of late-capitalist life, the material elements of political-economic production, the various forms of materiality we group under the signifier “nature”—cannot be adequately or completely accounted for by language.Insistence of the Materialtakes this contradiction between language and nonlinguistic forms of materiality as its fundamental preoccupation. It attempts to attend to what...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Novel Enfleshed: Naked Lunch and the Literature of Materiality
    (pp. 35-60)

    William Burroughs’s fiction resists temporal categorization.¹ While often defined in the popular imagination, along with Ginsberg and Kerouac, as one of the three major beat writers (an appellation that obscures the diversity of literary production and producers associated with the beat movement as well as Burroughs’s own rejection of the term), he is often presented as the odd man out in this fetishized triumvirate. Whereas Kerouac’s jazz-inflected and Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque writings seem comfortably of their time, Burroughs’s fiction, with its resolute antihumanism, darkness, and wildly experimental prose, seems to be generated as part of an alternate temporal trajectory—one that...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Vital Objects: Materiality and Biopolitics in Thomas Pynchon’s V.
    (pp. 61-92)

    Subject does not equal object in advanced capitalist life. This observation by one of the most celebrated of modernism’s theorists can be understood, ironically enough, as one of the inaugural theoretical formulations of the era that we conventionally call postmodern and can also be characterized as the era in which biopolitics and its deathly double, thanatopolitics, migrate from the colonial periphery to the metropolitan center. If biopolitics is fundamentally about the direct shaping of subjectivity and life itself by power (whether conceived politically or political economically), then Adorno’s formulation comes as a warning: we privilege the subjective and imagine the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Late-Modern Unconscious: The Object World of J. G. Ballard’s Crash
    (pp. 93-120)

    Postmodernism and the linguistic turn are two concepts often thought of as deeply intertwined, if not in fact synonymous.¹ Whether theorized via the linguistic metaphors (such as discourse, textuality, simulation, narrative, and signification), privileged by poststructuralism, or as a cultural preoccupation with linguistic and the textual produced by shifts within the political economy that betoken post-Fordism, immaterial production, or late capitalism, language appears to be postmodernism’s privileged object and medium.²

    It is precisely this privileging of the linguistic that is challenged by J. G. Ballard’s fictional aesthetic. Like the other authors considered in this book, Ballard’s fiction of the early...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Disinterring the Real: Embodiment, AIDS, and Biomedicalization in Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker
    (pp. 121-150)

    So postmodernism is no more.¹ We critics and theorist of contemporary culture gather around the open grave to say its last rights and perhaps to eulogize it (while we whisper our ambivalences about it to the mourners standing next to us), but mostly we throw dirt on the casket to make sure it stays buried. This dirt has taken many forms recently, from pronouncements that we have now entered into an era with a new cultural dominant, to arguments for a post-postmodern set of aesthetic practices in literary and cultural production, to assertions that postmodernism never really existed in the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Almanac of the Living: Thanatopolitics and an Alternative Biopolitics in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead
    (pp. 151-182)

    Leslie Marmon Silko’sAlmanac of the Deadis a book for our time.¹ At first glance, this claim may seem strangely anachronistic. After all, Silko’s novel appeared more than twenty years ago, and certainly the world has changed in ways both hopeful (the growth of counterglobalization movements, the growth of fourth-world forms of resistance such as the EZLN, resistance partly modeled on Silko’s almanac, and the emergence of the anti-austerity and Occupy movements) and not so hopeful (the continuing scourge of neoliberalism, the exponential growth of environmental degradation on a global scale, and the open-ended war on terror and the...

  10. CONCLUSION: Tarrying with the Material
    (pp. 183-200)

    This conclusion takes the form of a series of propositions. These propositions are not meant to be binding or definitive but rather speculative and generative. In the spirit (so to speak) of Hegel’s preface toThe Phenomenology of Spirit, which meditates on the impossibility of writing a preface, this will be a conclusion that doesn’t conclude.¹ Instead, I borrow my form in this conclusion from the writers and theorists who have been central to this project. It is no accident that these writers and theorists are known for their formal discontinuities, whether it is Bellamy, with her radicalization of the...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 201-204)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 205-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-264)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)