A Modern Utopia and the Dissociation of an Individual Self in Manhattan Transfer and U.S.A.

A Modern Utopia and the Dissociation of an Individual Self in Manhattan Transfer and U.S.A.
John Dos Passos; monopoly capitalism; utopia; dissociated individual; Manhattan Transfer; U.S.A. trilogy; commodity fetishism; fragmentation
Issue Date
미국소설, v.18, no.3, pp.175 - 190
In his career as a novelist, John Dos Passos inquired into the relationship between fiction and history by using one of his distinctive but consistent ways: through cultivating multiple lives of various individuals, he tried to bring up the public and collective memory of the historical era, as well as its social landscape. Therefore, almost all characters from Manhattan Transfer and the U.S.A. trilogy are flat, inert, and dissociated individuals, which are in direct contrast to G. Lukacs’s character types of world-historical individuals who represent and symbolize dynamically socio-historical movements and paradigms. However, because of the historical shift from 19th-century competitive capitalism to modern monopoly capitalism, it is very persuasive to argue that Dos Passos’s flat, static, and dissociated individuals should be historically more accurate and precise than the bourgeois concept of autonomous individual which provided a ground for the Lukacian integrated and dynamic individuals. In fact, this dissolution of autonomous individuals into the dissociated ones was an overall tendency of modern novels since monopoly capitalism caused the gradual dissolution and disappearance of individual characters in modern novels. With the historical shift from competitive capitalism to monopoly one, the commodity culture and imperial politics of monopoly capitalism had conspired a utopian version of modern industrial society since the center of modern Utopian impulse is in the system of monopoly capitalism. Under the logic of monopoly capitalism, the dynamic movement of the modern Utopia had been replaced with the circulation of commodity in the market. In this modern Utopia, the celestial logic of commodity reification was to disperse the autonomous subjectivity of the individual into the expanding web of the market system by way of public media and commercial images of advertisement. In this historical situation, the autonomous self had a tendency to exist only in the dissociated form of fragmentation. Therefore, these dissociated selves in Dos Passos’ novels such as Manhattan Transfer and U.S.A. could be seen as faithful realization of this modern environment. Using distinctive textual devises, such as fragmented montages, stream of consciousness, advertising images of commodity, and patched documentaries of public media, Dos Passos portrayed the dissociation of individual selves under the entropic Utopia of monopoly capitalism. In this modern Utopia, the reification of commodity logic was inducing the entropic death of individual selves. We can find out this dismal irony in the novels of John Dos Passos, especially Manhattan Transfer and his U.S.A. trilogy.
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