Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction Legacies of the Avant-Garde

consumerismThis book examines manufactured waste and remaindered humans in literary critiques of capitalism by twentieth-century writers associated with the historical avant-garde and their descendants. Building on recent work in new materialism and waste studies, Rachele Dini reads waste as a process or phase amenable to interruption. From an initial exploration of waste and re-use in three Surrealist texts by Giorgio de Chirico, André Breton, and Mina Loy, Dini traces the conceptualization of waste in the writing of Samuel Beckett, Donald Barthelme, J.G. Ballard, William Gaddis, and Don DeLillo. In exploring the relationship between waste, capitalism, and literary experimentation, this book shows that the legacy of the historical avant-garde is bound up with an enduring faith in the radical potential of waste. The first study to focus specifically on waste in the twentieth-century imagination, this is a valuable contribution to the expanding field of waste studies.

About the book the author writes :

« My first monograph, Consumerism, Waste and Re-use in Twentieth-century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde, published by Palgrave Macmillan in November 2016, extends these interests to explore the political ramifications of reclamation through attention to the representation of garbage in a range of experimental novels from across the twentieth century. From an initial exploration of waste and re-use in three Surrealist texts—Giorgio de Chirico’s Hebdomeros (1929), André Breton’s Nadja (1928), and Mina Loys unfinished novel Insel (1930-1961)—my book traces the conceptualisation of material waste, surplus humans, and time-wasting in the prose Samuel Beckett published between 1950 and 1964, Donald Barthelme’s Snow White (1967), J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974) and High-Rise (1975), William Gaddis’s J.R. (1975), and a selection of novels by Don DeLillo written between 1971 and 1997. The last chapter considers waste’s role in a range of postmillennial novels, including Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013), Jonathan Miles’s Want Not (2013), and Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island (2015). Each of these texts attends to surplus matter and surplus people (the unemployed, the homeless, and refugees) in order to both interrogate capitalist ascriptions of value and test the novel form.

Crucially, my contention is that these two efforts—the challenging of capitalist ideology, and the challenging of literary realism—are in fact connected. The French Surrealists argued that cast-offs, or what they termed objets trouvés (literally, “found objects”), had the capacity to challenge bourgeois (middle-class) values: by resisting interpretation, and through its absence of an apparent function or financial value, the objet trouvé had the capacity to subvert the rationalism of everyday life. Not only: it also lent itself to imaginative re-interpretation. The task of the artist (or writer), was to unlock the hidden potential of the objet trouvé, and in so doing “awaken” capitalist society from the stupor of an encroaching consumerism. According to the Surrealist credo, the reclamation of waste was thus a radical political act. » full article on discard studies

Rachele Dini is an interdisciplinary scholar and early career academic whose work primarily focuses on twentieth-century fiction (particularly post-war literary avant-gardes, and the work of Don DeLillo and JG Ballard), eco-criticism, and New Materialism. She has an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Cambridge, an MA from King’s College, London, and a PhD from University College London (UCL). She teaches at the Foundation for International Education (FIE), Murray Edwards College (University of Cambridge), and the BASc Degree Programme at UCL. She lives in London in a flat full of (reclaimed and re-purposed) waste objects.

Book published by Palgrave Macmillan US in 2016.

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