"Between Self-Improvement and Self-Destruction" explores the roots of America's fascination with self-help manuals, and the problems they posed at the dawn of the postmodern age. Considering these manuals—from Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography to Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People—the ultimate genre of liberal humanist modernity, I highlight their central role in the production of American masculinity from the "self-made man" to the "organization man." Against a vast scholarly archive unified in its belief that the genre functions as a technology of power, regulating proper conduct and producing the disciplinary subject of modernity, this dissertation looks elsewhere. I argue that the contradictions of our culture's master narrative of self-improvement are best illuminated if juxtaposed with the counternarrative of self-destruction, which is shown as a primary trope, in the thought of Nietzsche, Adorno, Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan, Jameson, and Žižek, among others, to register modes of rebellion against the dominant social order.
After an introductory chapter traces the male conduct manual's emergence from the late Renaissance and places it in relation to the more frequently discussed female conduct book, the remainder of my discussion focuses on the post-WWII period and how the genre's form and content changes with the emergence of the consumer society. This was the era that witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of conduct manuals alongside an intense discursive production of "rebellion" in the era's literature, film, and pop music. Reading canonical "rebel" texts such as The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road as well as the subcultural formations of hip-hop and metrosexuality alongside "How to Be a Beatnik" kits, The Anarchist Cookbook, and The Hip-Hop Generation Guide to Success, my project argues for the existence of not so much conduct manuals but what might more aptly be called "misconduct manuals." Reimagining the intersection between the American how-to everyday and literary and theoretical production, between gender and genre, and between (neo)liberal self-fashioning and subcultural rebellion, I explicate a shift that saw one of the great clichés of modernity, the self-made man, become a figure emblematic of an emergent postmodernity— the self-destructive man.
|School:||University of California, Riverside|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American studies, American literature, Gender studies|
|Keywords:||Consumer society, Cultural studies, Hip-hop, J. D. Salinger - criticism and interpretation, Jack Kerouac - criticism and interpretation, Kerouac, Jack, Liles, Kevin, Male conduct manual, Masculinity, Post-WWII American literature, Powell, William, Salinger, J. D.|
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