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The redemption of rubbish: representations of waste in selected 20th-century fiction

Dini, RJA; (2015) The redemption of rubbish: representations of waste in selected 20th-century fiction. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis examines the literary representation of manufactured waste and remaindered humans – humans cast out of the job market, or who actively resist being put to use – at specific moments in the evolution of 20th-century capitalism, with particular attention to the role these different forms of waste play in its critique. My project’s scope is historical insofar as it views each of the literary instantiations of superfluous humans and manufactured waste under review as reflective of a broader shift in capitalism’s progression, and its effects on culture at large. However, the concern is not to trace a history of literary movements, or a history of labour and consumption – rather, it is to examine what the depiction of waste in each of these texts tells us about the stage of capitalism in which it was written, to explore the very different ways in which waste is deployed to critique specific aspects of capitalist ideology, and to think about the role that the novel form plays in those critiques. The texts themselves have thus been chosen as unique depictions of waste and interrogations of capitalist ascriptions of value, rather than for their exemplification of a particular aesthetic credo or movement. Beginning with the mixed-media experimentations of three European artists closely associated with the historical avant-garde (Giorgio de Chirico, André Breton, Mina Loy), and ending with the dystopia of nuclear fallout and toxic landfills in Don DeLillo's novels at the century’s close, the project traces waste’s deployment in the critique of crucial moments in the transformation of capital, from the commodification of art at the beginning of the 20th century to the post-Fordist era of flexible accumulation. In between these two periods, I examine the depiction of homeless vagrants and scavengers in Samuel Beckett’s mid- to late-prose (1950-1967), in which I read these characters as resisting Fordist rationalisation and parodying the life of consumer-workers. The concluding chapter reflects back upon the 20th-century novels discussed in the previous chapters, before looking forward to the 21st century through the exploration of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013), Jonathan Miles’ Want Not (2013) and Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island (2015), in which waste is discussed in relation to the environmental crisis, the global financial crisis, and the birth of the Internet. The study deploys a range of theoretical lenses including - but not limited to - Marxist historical materialism, waste theory, thing theory and object-oriented ontology, and new materialism, to consider these questions. Throughout, I consider how novelists have sought, through representations of waste, to liven us to the danger of being ‘subsumed,’ to paraphrase Don DeLillo, by our excretions – to make us think about the extent to which capitalism governs how we ascribe value to people and things.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The redemption of rubbish: representations of waste in selected 20th-century fiction
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: waste, garbage, rubbish, capitalism, value, novel, fiction, literature, twentieth century, narrative, Surrealism, André Breton, Mina Loy, Giorgio de Chirico, Samuel Beckett, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Tom McCarthy, Jonathan Miles, Donald Barthelme, David Foster Wallace, ecocriticism, avant-garde, postmodernism, Zygmunt Bauman, Arjun Appadurai
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1471337
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