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Insistence of the Material

Literature in the Age of Biopolitics

2014
Author:

Christopher Breu

Insistence of the Material

A provocative reconsideration of experimental fiction from the late twentieth century

Insistence of the Material engages with theories of materiality and biopolitics to provide a radical reinterpretation of experimental fiction in the second half of the twentieth century. It examines this literature’s focus on the material conditions of everyday life and rethinks contemporary understandings of biopolitics, affirming the importance of forms of materiality that refuse full socialization and resist symbolic manipulation.

Insistence of the Material offers powerful readings of the most important experimental writers since 1950, readings that demonstrate how much subversive political potential remains in literature as it emerges from the bewildering metafictional labyrinths of postmodernism. Christopher Breu takes readers on a sometimes dangerous, often disturbing but always bracing trip along the parallel cutting edges of contemporary literature and theory.

Timothy S. Murphy, author of Antonio Negri: Modernity and the Multitude

Insistence of the Material engages with recent theories of materiality and biopolitics to provide a radical reinterpretation of experimental fiction in the second half of the twentieth century. In contrast to readings that emphasize the metafictional qualities of these works, Christopher Breu examines this literature’s focus on the material conditions of everyday life, from the body to built environments, and from ecosystems to economic production.

In Insistence of the Material, Breu rethinks contemporary understandings of biopolitics, affirming the importance of forms of materiality that refuse full socialization and resist symbolic manipulation. Breu considers a range of novels that reflect questions of materiality in a biopolitical era, including William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, Thomas Pynchon’s V., J. G. Ballard’s Crash, Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead. Drawing from accounts of the emergence of immaterial production and biopolitics by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Breu reveals the confrontational dimensions of materiality itself in a world devoted to the idea of its easy malleability and transcendence.

Taking his analysis beyond the boundaries of literature, Breu argues that both materiality and subjectivity form sites of resistance to biopolitical control and that new developments in materialist theory advance a conception of social existence in which materiality—rather than language or culture—is the central term.

Insistence of the Material

Christopher Breu is associate professor of English at Illinois State University. He is the author of Hard-Boiled Masculinities (Minnesota, 2005).

Insistence of the Material

Insistence of the Material offers powerful readings of the most important experimental writers since 1950, readings that demonstrate how much subversive political potential remains in literature as it emerges from the bewildering metafictional labyrinths of postmodernism. Christopher Breu takes readers on a sometimes dangerous, often disturbing but always bracing trip along the parallel cutting edges of contemporary literature and theory.

Timothy S. Murphy, author of Antonio Negri: Modernity and the Multitude

Insistence of the Material

Contents

Preface: Origin Story
Introduction: Theorizing Materiality in the Age of Biopolitics

1. The Novel Enfleshed: Naked Lunch and the Literature of Materiality
2. Vital Objects: Materiality and Biopolitics in Thomas Pynchon’s V.
3. The Late-Modern Unconscious: The Object World of J. G. Ballard’s Crash
4. Disinterring the Real: Embodiment, AIDS, and Biomedicalization in Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker
5. Almanac of the Living: Thanatopolitics and an Alternative Biopolitics in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead

Conclusion: Tarrying with the Material

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index