The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction

The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction

The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction

The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction


With the assistance of poststructuralist theories by Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan, The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction evaluates the contemporary role of the doppelgänger. The doppelgänger or double was previously used in Plato's works to explain sexual attraction; in Western folklore to signify imminent death; in premodern English literature to explore the relationship of the soul and the body, reason and conscience, or any number of binary oppositions; and in twentieth-century literature to depict the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. Traditionally the double has affirmed rational humanist views of an indivisible, fixed identity and universal absolutes.

Gordon E. Slethaug argues that in postmodern literature the double has ceased to function as a metaphor for unity (or aberrational metaphysical-physical conflict and psychological decomposition) and instead celebrates a discontinuous self in a fragmented universe. A self-conscious literary device, it now assesses the human desire to structure language, fiction, and all reality. By specifically applying his theory to works by Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, John Hawkes, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, and Raymond Federman, Slethaug gears The Play of the Double in Postmodern American Fiction to fictional works that depart from the psychological perspectives of Freudian psychoanalysis or Jungian archetypalism, thus setting his work apart from earlier studies of the double.

The authors Slethaug examines are concerned with the de-formation and re-formation of signifying structures in society and fiction: In Despair, Nabokov shows how the doppelgänger has linked analogy, metaphor, philosophical idealism, and transcendental mysticism. In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon interrogates binarity, putting it under erasure, and affirms binary intersubjectivity; he also looks at the human tendency to equate systems. In Blood Oranges, Hawkes investigates the way in which the twin drives of eroticism and death, commonly viewed in Freudian psychology as antithetical, are similar in subject to transference. In Lost in the Funhouse, Barth presents a dizzying array of doubles that simultaneously use and displace previous significations. In The Hawkline Monster, Brautigan's minimalist metafictive parody of the double depicts our narcissistic view of reality. In Double or Nothing, Federman subverts the conventional double, exposing its gamelike structures and traditional views of life and text.

Slethaug shows that by interrogating the sign of the double each author examined questions the binarity upon which the double is fixed, uses and subverts traditional significations, and reinvigorates a clichéd literary device. This pathbreaking book will engage those interested in contemporary theory, contemporary American literature, and the fantastic in literature.


In the archaeology of knowledge, Michel Foucault queries the processes that yield historical conclusions. His deep mistrust of series, criteria for periodization, levels of hierarchy, and stratification, as well as associations that lead to causality, prompts him to question how written documentation has been used to create unities and totalities -- monuments of history. He even questions the facts upon which assumptions are based because facts cannot, he suggests, be seen as separable from their interpretations. Out of such conviction he argues against closure and teleology, against any certainty in the presentation of the history of ideas, for he finds that history is a reflection of the people who write it and hence invent it rather than a valid, objective interpretation of indisputable facts. He himself prefers the practice of archaeology over history to discover the "silent monuments, inert traces, objects without context, and things left by the past" that can attain meaning and legitimacy only through the reevaluation of historical discourse. in his archaeological method he sifts the "silent" data to present different facts, offer manifold and frequently undecidable interpretations, discover differences, and especially create ruptures and discontinuities -- rupture and discontinuity serving as a method of investigation and the product of it. His findings, then, are hesitant, evasive, and inconclusive.

To the extent that my study explores the double, a discourse that is in itself "denaturalized" and consequently one that has been largely ignored, suppressed, and silenced by novelists and critics of realism, it is archaeological. Yet in exploring the history of the double and . . .

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