Dissentive individualism in contemporary American fiction
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This dissertation discusses individualism in contemporary American fictions dealing with conspiracy theories. By focusing on historical events that have profoundly shaped the American collective identity, the authors demonstrate how conspiracies truncate the ideal state of liberal democracy. In doing so, they heavily invest on autonomous and marginalized individualism through which social criticism is articulated. Although I concur with many conspiracy theorists that the emphasis on individualism reflects the fear of losing individual autonomy in post-industrial society, I will take a slight departure and argue that the sanction of individualism is also a viable political choice on the authors' part. In appreciating the political significance of individual dissensus in contemporary conspiracy fictions, I will examine how it closely follows the themes and rhetoric of Cold War political discourses. By discussing elements prevalent during the period - including the notion of mass conformity, aversion of collective struggles for social change, psychological inner revolt identified with political resistance, and co-option of Otherness (i.e., voluntary self-marginalization) as a badge of radical denunciation of society -, I hope to show that the Cold War discourses have paved the groundwork for conspiracy fictions in positing the autonomous individual as a nodal point of political subversion and in imagining it as a symbolic solution to ameliorate social defects. This dissertation also explores conspiracy fictions within contexts of the American conspiracy theory genre throughout the nation's history. The primary concern of the genre is to underline the discrepancy between reality and national ideals: it aims to criticize social defects materialized by conspiracy, and in doing so, it functions to reconfirm values and ideas upon which the nation is based. I will approach individualized dissensus in contemporary fictions as a continuation of the genre's tradition. Taking a cure from Sacvan Bercovitch, I would like to suggest that the radical criticism in these fictions is expressed by liberal individualism as one of the fundamental bases of American identity, thus opposing the society by way of reaffirming its ideal.