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Space, time and the subject in Don Delillo’s Underworld Benzon, Kirsten Jane

Abstract

This paper considers the relationship between space and history as presented in Don DeLillo's Underworld (1997). I will argue that the historical conceptions articulated in this novel both formally and thematically subvert the conventional notion that history is a primarily temporal and linear construct. I will examine how DeLillo's essentially spatial mode of narrativity works to destabilize political, economic and military orders which regulate individual activity. Further, I hope to show how this mode works to reposition the individual subject as an agent in the historical text. Drawing on theoretical conceptions of Freud, Fromm, Foucault and Jameson, this paper investigates the various cultural patterns that, inasmuch as they define modernity, depend upon linear notions of time and progress for the proliferation of their hegemonic structures. DeLillo's text, an excavation of the raw material that exists beneath the surface of the " official " past, throws these patterns into question by asserting the necessary layerdness and multiplicity of experience. By casting its gaze equally at marginal and celebrated figures and dissembling the sequential patterns of supposedly finite incidence, Underworld coalesces the epistemological influences of modernity with the ontological concerns of postmodernity. Further, DeLillo's project marks a digression from the depthlessness and amorality associated with postmodern art by depicting the subject as part of a network of commodities and images, signifying, as DeLillo's protagonist remarks, "We are not excluded from our own lives" (Underworld 84). The decomposition of linear signifying chains and their attendant tyrannical regimes is achieved by the distinctly spatial metaphors and mechanisms at play in the narrative. Linear trajectories are exploded into nodal stars, or intersections, of perception and experience. This paper is concerned primarily with the various hypertextual assemblages in Underworld, and how the intermeshing of media forms evinces a tolerating and coordinating historical configuration.

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