Carnegie Mellon University

Authentic Fictions in Homely Worlds: The Construction of the Post-Tourist Gaze in Postmodern American Fiction

Author: Nilak Datta
Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2011

This dissertation examines how postmodern American fiction takes cognizance of the worldwide expansion of tourism since the 1950s and how this expansion can help explain its self-reflexive character. Accounts of postmodern fiction have stressed its self-reflexivity in general terms such as incredulity towards meta-narratives, shifts of literary dominant, and concerns about the fictionality of history. However, they have not accounted for the worldwide expansion of international tourism that has risen steadily from 25.3 million in 1950 to 806.5 million in 2005. Postmodern protagonists are aware that the increased mobility of individuals as tourists has altered the notion of home as a fixed location in time and space. Protagonists subject what they see around them to a “post-tourist gaze”, an emergent way of self-reflexive accounting for the socially constructed nature of tourist gazes that have traditionally delineated explorations of what lies beyond the confines of home.
I examine four novels - E. L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel (1971), Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire(1962), and Ishmael Reed’s Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969).

I argue that they eschew the search for authenticity to be found in other cultures and peoples that characterized the basic motivation for tourism and which could be seen as a model for realist and modernist novels. I examine these postmodern novels against the background of the Haussmanization of Paris, bulldozer development of the Bronx, the 1893 Columbian Exposition of Chicago, slum tourism, the Romantic propagation of the English Lake District, and the propagation of the Western frontier as a tourist heterotopia. These novels are self-reflexive because their post-tourists narrators are aware that authenticity in the postmodern world is an effect of cultural hegemonies and not an innate quality to objects and experiences.