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The Semiotics of Power: Corrupting Sign Systems in Contemporary American Exceptionalism and in Breat Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis

Harma, Tanguy. 2014. The Semiotics of Power: Corrupting Sign Systems in Contemporary American Exceptionalism and in Breat Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. European Journal of American Culture, 33(3), pp. 195-208. ISSN 1466-0407 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article aims to decipher the interplay on the semiotic notions of signifier, signified and referent coined by semiotician Saussure (1857-1913) in Donald E. Pease’s 2009 work New American Exceptionalism and in two late twentieth - early twenty-first-century American novels: Breat Easton Ellis’s American Psycho and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. The analysis of the semiotic arrangement of the selected works will allow a critical insight into the constitution of specific sign systems in contemporary American Exceptionalism that will shed light onto the distortion and corruption of the foundational values of the American nation, as exemplified in the selected novels.
In this regard, Ellis and DeLillo will be envisaged as two fiction writers who, through their engagement with postmodern aesthetics, incorporate this semiotic interplay at the level of their own sign systems. Through their various representations of a reality that is flattened out by the two-dimensional culture of the image, I will show how this paradigm is integrated into the texts, as each writer, in his own fashion, underlines the conditions for semiotic manipulation in contemporary culture.
In more detail, I will analyse how a trope of surface reality (Baudrillard) is characterized in these works through a movement that starts with a disconnection between signifier and signified and that proceeds with the symbolic discarding of the sign’s referent (Ellis), resulting in the capacity to corrupt reality through language itself. Ultimately, I will decipher how DeLillo’s Cosmopolis epitomizes the dematerialisation and dissolution of referents in cybercapitalism through the self-referentiality of the sign that the novel purports.
As the selected texts of Ellis and DeLillo integrate and satirize this hiatus, they present their readers with a critique of the deviation of national culture and identity from the foundational spirit of the American project and the promises of American Exceptionalism, ultimately offering an invitation to re-think contemporary American culture from a postmodern perspective.

Item Type:

Article

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.1386/ejac.33.3.195_1

Keywords:

American Exceptionalism, Donald E Pease, Bret Easton Ellis, Don DeLillo, sign system, postmodernism

Related URLs:

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature

Dates:

DateEvent
September 2014Published

Item ID:

17159

Date Deposited:

16 Mar 2016 22:38

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2017 09:10

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/17159

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