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Requiem for Reality: An Intellectual History of the Left-Wing Response to Neoliberalism during the 1980s and 1990s

Askew, Elliot; (2022) Requiem for Reality: An Intellectual History of the Left-Wing Response to Neoliberalism during the 1980s and 1990s. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation is an intellectual history of how left-wing public intellectuals responded to neoliberalism within the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. The focus is placed upon a disparate array of figures that includes Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Ellen Willis, Thomas Frank, Bret Easton Ellis, and Octavia Butler. Each intellectual perceived there to be a divergence between the dominant understanding of reality and what was actually occurring during the period and argued that this process consistently fostered a mood and tone of ‘obfuscation.’ This identification of obfuscation mirrored and critiqued neoliberalism’s market logic. Within this dissertation neoliberalism is positioned as a wider historical force that encouraged all actions and interactions to be processed through an economic lens, which in turn led to conceptions of reality being treated as devices to be bought, sold, and invested in through a ‘marketplace of narratives.’ The dissertation’s central finding is that during the 1980s and 1990s left thinkers outlined and scrutinised neoliberalism’s discursive impact and found that its market logic facilitated the diminishment of reality, as a commitment towards the truth was not prioritised and was instead replaced by a focus on boosting or supplanting competing narratives. The consistent identification of this process led to an ‘age of obfuscation.’ Consequently, this dissertation explores neoliberalism’s affective resonance and deploys Raymond Williams’ ‘structure of feeling’ concept to map the historical sensorium of the 1980s and 1990s. In doing so, it details the wholesale rightward shift that was occurring across economics and culture at the end of the twentieth century, as a market logic came to dominate, and the left was placed in a position of weakness as it first had to overcome the veneer of obfuscation before it could advance a new form of politics.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Requiem for Reality: An Intellectual History of the Left-Wing Response to Neoliberalism during the 1980s and 1990s
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2022. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of the Americas
UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10152823
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