Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"You're always running into people's unconscious": Public Intimacy and the Imagined Celebrity Self in Fiction
by Retartha, Amanda G., Ph.D., New York University, 2014, 268; 3635297
Abstract (Summary)

The relationship between audience and celebrity is defined by the desire for and failure of knowledge: the audience grasps for insight about the celebrity's private self, while the celebrity strives to cultivate an image that refuses such scrutiny. Joseph Roach calls this phenomenon "public intimacy," or the "illusion of proximity" that promises access to celebrities but ultimately ensures its denial. This dissertation details three mechanisms that structure the dynamic of public intimacy: the discursive framing of the Method technique as the affective blurring of actor and character; of photographs as texts that can articulate the secrets of a subject's inner-life, beyond their surface image; and of the physical, sexual body as rendering visible a person's spiritual or psychological condition. It then analyzes the ways in which writing that transforms real celebrities into fictional characters integrates and deconstructs these mechanisms as reflections of its own tenuous position between invention and truth.

This dissertation takes as its primary texts the imagined autobiographies of Marilyn Monroe written by Joyce Carol Oates (Blonde, 2000) and Norman Mailer (Of Women and Their Elegance, 1980); Mailer's "novel biography" of Monroe (Marilyn, 1973); and examples of Real Person Fiction or RPF, a type of fan fiction (stories written by fans about their favorite media objects) that appropriates famous people rather than popular characters. Each chapter begins with a discussion of Oates's and Mailer's novels, which dwell on the false ontological promises of Method acting (Ch. 1), photography (Ch. 2), and the sexual body (Ch. 3), as well as the inadequacy of their fictional Monroes. The argument then moves to RPF, which, while acknowledging the same limitations as do Oates's and Mailer's works, privileges the practice of fan fiction writing as creating a distinct, valid form of knowledge that can overcome the enforced distance of public intimacy. In evaluating how these texts--occupying the space between fantasy and reality--interrogate both the process of uncovering a celebrity's true self and the potential of fiction to provide an alternative route to authentic contact, this project offers a unique approach to the role of celebrity in the cultural imagination.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Harper, Phillip B.
Commitee: Deer, Patrick, Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, Murray, Susan, Sandhu, Sukhdev
School: New York University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Celebrities, Fan fiction, Fans, Monroe, Marilyn
Publication Number: 3635297
ISBN: 978-1-321-16282-0
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