Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America

Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America


By (author) Timothy Melley

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  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 264 pages
  • Dimensions: 168mm x 221mm x 18mm | 181g
  • Publication date: 3 February 2012
  • Publication City/Country: Ithaca
  • ISBN 10: 0801486068
  • ISBN 13: 9780801486067
  • Edition statement: New.
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 441,813

Product description

Why, Timothy Melley asks, have paranoia and conspiracy theory become such prominent features of postwar American culture? In Empire of Conspiracy, Melley explores the recent growth of anxieties about thought-control, assassination, political indoctrination, stalking, surveillance, and corporate and government plots. At the heart of these developments, he believes, lies a widespread sense of crisis in the way Americans think about human autonomy and individuality. Nothing reveals this crisis more than the remarkably consistent form of expression that Melley calls "agency panic" an intense fear that individuals can be shaped or controlled by powerful external forces. Drawing on a broad range of forms that manifest this fear including fiction, film, television, sociology, political writing, self-help literature, and cultural theory Melley provides a new understanding of the relation between postwar American literature, popular culture, and cultural theory.Empire of Conspiracy offers insightful new readings of texts ranging from Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to the Unabomber Manifesto, from Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders to recent addiction discourse, and from the "stalker" novels of Margaret Atwood and Diane Johnson to the conspiracy fictions of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Don DeLillo, and Kathy Acker. Throughout, Melley finds recurrent anxieties about the power of large organizations to control human beings. These fears, he contends, indicate the continuing appeal of a form of individualism that is no longer wholly accurate or useful, but that still underpins a national fantasy of freedom from social control."

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Review quote

"The myth of 'individualism' rests as clearly fixed in Melley's sights as the Kennedy limo was in Oswald's. . . .Melley highlights the power and significance of 'Gravity's Rainbow' in its historical moment. . . .In demonstrating how extensively 'Gravity's Rainbow' chronicles the dissolution of human bodies in the corpus of information, and in connecting this dissolution to postwar agency panic, Melley is also restoring to the novel a much needed sense of its historicity. . . ..What should I make. . . of the fact that when I was halfway through the writing of this essay, I received a second copy of 'Empire of Conspiracy' sent to me ostensibly out of the blue, by Melley himself? What did Melley know, and when did he know it?" Alan Nadel, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Contemporary Literature XLIII, 2, Summer 2002"