Promises of paradise: critiques of consumerism in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Martin Amis's Money: a suicide note and Michel Houellebecq's Atomised
Lavey, Nicola Ophelia
MetadataShow full item record
The aim of this master's thesis is to examine the critical presentation of late twentieth- century consumerism as 'deception' in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Martin Amis's Money: A Suicide Note and Michel Houellebecq's Atomised. This study has two primary goals: (1) To outline how these texts provide critical perspectives on the way signs and language are used to stimulate consumer desire (2) To demonstrate how these authors undermine the consumerist ideals of the selfsufficient maximisation of pleasure through the immediate gratification of wants and desires. In the first section, the main characteristics of 'consumerism' are discussed, drawing primarily on Zygmunt Bauman and Colin Campbell's theories of consumerism as a social system of values prioritising the individual maximisation of pleasure. These social theories are combined with the semiotic methods of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard to show how traditional religious, mythological and cultural signifiers are used to stimulate consumer desire. The following chapters are devoted to the analysis of the novels. First, the author's presentation of the seductive language used in consumerist discourse is analysed, highlighting the type of narrative voice and literary devices used to criticise it. Secondly, attention is drawn to how the authors use the metaphor of an earthly utopia or paradise to highlight the protagonists' fascination with the promises of unadulterated pleasure suggested in consumerist discourses, such as the mass media, Hollywood films and advertising. Special focus is given to the authors' use of metaphors evoking the paradisal conditions of eternal youth, oneness with others and the purification of personal shame, as intrinsic features of prelapsarian joy. It is highlighted how the protagonists in the novels think they can acquire this bliss through consumption. Thirdly, this study explores how these authors use subject matter and formal techniques to undermine the consumerist ideal, as formulated by Campbell and Bauman, of man as a self-sufficient individual autonomously creating his desires. It may be concluded that fictional texts provide an elucidating perspective on consumerist culture, as they enable both empathic and critical attitudes towards the states-of-affairs portrayed in the work. As consumerism is largely a symbolic and linguistic phenomenon, they demonstrate how aesthetic language can be used to undermine the seductive words and promises of consumerist discourse through the use of satire and parody.