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The Anxiety of Obsolescence

“If I were a writer,” Owen said, “how I would enjoy being told the novel is dead. How liberating, to work in the margins, outside a central perception. You are the ghoul of literature. Lovely.”
–Don DeLillo, The Names

The Anxiety of Obsolescence explores the seemingly tenuous position of literary fiction in contemporary U.S. media culture, paying particular attention to the ways in which the novel has suggested its own demise through its representations of television and other late twentieth-century modes of communication. More important in this study, however, than the question of whether the novel is becoming obsolete is that of what purpose it serves to claim that it is so. The argument of The Anxiety of Obsolescence is constructed through readings of the work of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, as well as through a critical engagement with the cultural contexts of that fiction, including scholarly work such as media and literary theory, but also popular journalism and phenomena such as Oprah’s Book Club. Throughout, the book argues that the anxiety of obsolescence is first and foremost a writerly strategem, one that allows the novelist to create a protected space within which the novel’s survival is assured — and, not incidentally, within which the novelist’s own social privilege is extended.

The book was originally released by Vanderbilt University Press in 2006; this website contains the full text in commentable form. Instructions for its use are contained in “How to Read this Text.”

Enormous thanks are due to my friends at Vanderbilt University Press for allowing me to republish the text in this format. I hope that you’ll support them by purchasing a copy of the book, or by asking your library to purchase a copy. In fact, VUP is generously offering a 20% discount off your entire order if you enter the code ANXIETY when you check out.

The Anxiety of Obsolescence is also available for purchase through Amazon--
and Barnes and Noble.