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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tertium datur : making contact in Don DeLillo's Ratner's Star Streit, Michael

Abstract

Ratner’s Star is considered one of Don DeLillo’s more inaccessible texts, and with good reason: taking the history of mathematical progress as its major temporal arc, Ratner’s Star eschews many conventions of fiction in order to create a unique system that operates—as many critics have noted—on a complex interplay of opposites. Fewer critics, however, have noted the importance of genre to this text. Going beyond the customary nod to Menippean satire, critics David Cowart, John Johnston and Mark Osteen, in particular, investigate the history of this genre to pose texts such as Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland as important models for Ratner’s Star. Extending existent scholarship, this present study roots DeLillo’s text firmly within the tradition of Menippean satire as defined by M. M. Bakhtin, not only to situate DeLillo’s concerns within the context of satire (this has already been accomplished) but also to activate a full-scale analysis of Ratner’s Star in Bakhtinian terminology. With Raphael’s School of Athens as a visual touchstone, this study investigates how DeLillo frames and re-frames the tension between the mathematically abstract and the materially tangible by employing Bakhtin’s definitions of the grotesque and heteroglossia. As a strongly grotesque character, Robert Hopper Softly and the “antrum” of his creation encapsulate such interplay of the abstract and the tangible while leaving this tension ambivalent and unresolved. The “New York episodes,” brief flashbacks where DeLillo grounds his protagonist in prosaic life, present a world according to the Menippean style of carnivalesque “slum naturalism,” wherein languages live and are lived in, rooted to their surroundings. On the other hand, Logicon, an artificial “universal” language, opposes the lived experience and heteroglossia of these New York episodes. In order to demonstrate DeLillo's suspicion of the destructive capability of such a universal language, this study concludes by defining Logicon as the primary antagonist of the novel, a tyrannical and abstracting force that threatens heteroglossic language and the plural realities it represents, Menippean satire as a genre embracing relativity, and most crucially, the artistic discourse of the novel itself.

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