Monday, December 12, 2011

Conspiracy as Control

Recently I came across the book Paradigms of Paranoia by author Dr. Samuel Coale. The book attempts to explain why the conspiracy is such an important part of contemporary postmodern fiction. He looks at the work of several authors, including Thomas Pynchon and Don Delillo (though White Noise is conspicuously absent from examination).

The book's central premise gets a bit bogged down when Coale tries to make the comparison between religious fundamentalism and conspiracy theory, but in essence his thesis is something like this: much like the belief in God meaning that there is a central plan that organizes the universe (so that it is not chaotic), conspiracy theory posits that there is some entity, person or cabal secretly in control of actions, and therefore the universe is organized (so that it is not ruled by chaos). Conspiracy theory shows up in postmodern fiction precisely because it is postmodern fiction, in other words--as a reaction to the formlessness of the movement.

This is the kind of premise that stays with a person. It's an important concept to help us understand contemporary postmodern fiction (and, by extension, transgressive fiction which I see as one strain of the postmodern, though I recognize that could be argued).

Coale's conception of the postmodern sublime as the search and discovery of information is fascinating. Hence, in much of postmodern fiction, the discovery of the conspiracy ultimately leads to the chasing down of the conspiracy and then to the uncovering the conspiracy and the inevitable revelation of the secret at the conspiracy's core. The sublime moment, then, according to Coale, is that moment when the protagonist stands face to face with that secret fully revealed to the audience.

I would argue, though, that this is not exclusively the domain of the postmodern. After all, isn't that particular sublime moment present at the revelation of the central motive in the whodunnit genre? Isn't that why we have to have the final confession scene? What is the moment that Oedipus figures out what he has done, with the mystery fully unfolded before him, but the sublime moment of information that was hidden revealed?

The best thing that can come out of a book, though, comes out of reading Coale's: I'm still thinking about it a week later. His thesis is provocative to say the least. What do you guys think? Is he right? Do you see this occurring in transgressive fiction, too?

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