A Democratic Shout for the Chaos of American Literature
Einstein once said that the only physical theory that will never be overtaken is the thermodynamic principle that the entropy of the universe is always increasing. In other words, our universe is constantly moving toward a state of increased disorder and chaos. If our post modern culture has any correlation to the physical world, I am inclined to agree. The basis of post modern literature is the theme of infinite regress, which echoes the laws of entropy and universal disorder. The most important novels of our time must originally and clearly deal with the issues of a society ordered by chaos, while reflecting the universal trend toward disorder.


Of the five novels we read this quarter, Mao II deals, most directly, with issues relevant to contemporary society. Repetition is a major theme of the novel that DeLillo uses to reflect some of these issues. In the text he uses the repetition of words and phrases to continually draw the reader back to the starting point, as if the characters, for all their action were never really getting anywhere new or making progress toward anything new. Mass media such as news broadcasts, billboards for Coke II in war torn Beirut, and Andy Warhol silk screens, give all of his characters and events the feeling that who they are and what they do is both inescapable and repetitive. His characters loose their identities in the crowds of homeless in New York City, and the mass wedding ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Just as Warhol used repetition of common place objects such as Coke cans and Campbell’s soup labels to single out an object into a long line of meaningless lonely repetition, DeLillo uses repetition of American culture in the novel to speak to the loneliness and solitude of a generation surrounded by masses of people and advertisements and world news reports. None of it is personal or related to the characters individuality. The people that make up the crowds have no more unique identity than Warhol’s duplicate Campbell’s soup cans.


In contrast to the saturation of post modern American culture DeLillo gives us, Norman Rush sets his novel, Mating, in a feminist African utopia project. Rush gives us a love story plot to talk about ideas like feminism and socialism. We can relate to the characters specific stories of childhood and perhaps know them better than we know any of DeLillo’s characters because of all the background information and complex character development Rush gives us. However, Mating is a novel of intellectual ideas and intellectual love, it has none of the universal themes or experiences of Mao II. Feminism and Socialism don’t have much to do with mainstream American commercialism and independence. While Rush does a good job of dealing with these issues and even taking a new approach to the utopian novel, his themes are just not broad enough to be relevant to American culture as a whole. For most of his readers then, his book becomes less of a social commentary and more of a pure love story.


Mating belongs to the genre of the utopian novel. This establishes a link between this and other great works such as A Brave New World, and 1984. Unfortunately, narratives of social utopianism fall under suspicion in our post modern society. This puts all of Rush’s social, religious, and scientific commentary under suspicion as well. Rush recognizes the need to replace the religious narrative with a more secular, even scientific, moral commentary. He calls Mating an “anthropodicy”, or a justification of mans ways to man. Post modern morality, however, has more to do with what feels right or wrong and what seems fair than with any standard universal right or wrong that such an anthropodicy would involve. So, again, Rush is not speaking to post modern America in a style that our culture can accept without reservation.


A style that our culture has no trouble identifying with however, is the sort of three-ring circus of multi-media, multi, 20-second blurb evening news, story line that we get in Mao II. Mixed media is one of the defining characteristics of post modern novels. DeLillo combines the prose of first person narration with several forms of visual imagery.