Empire of Conspiracy

Empire of Conspiracy : The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America

3.66 (21 ratings by Goodreads)
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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.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 167.64 x 220.98 x 17.78mm | 181.44g
  • Cornell University Press
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 0801486068
  • 9780801486067
  • 652,194

Review quote

"Empire of Conspiracy brilliantly diagnoses the dynamics underlying the proliferation of conspiracy theories in contemporary American society. 'Agency panic' is the paradoxical formation that tries to salvage liberal individualism by reinvesting agency in a malign super-force. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary American literature and culture."--N. Katherine Hayles, University of California at Los Angelesshow more

Rating details

21 ratings
3.66 out of 5 stars
5 19% (4)
4 48% (10)
3 24% (5)
2 0% (0)
1 10% (2)
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