Latent Destinies

Cultural Paranoia and Contemporary U.S. Narrative

Latent Destinies

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: October 2000

American Studies, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Latent Destinies examines the formation of postmodern sensibilities and their relationship to varieties of paranoia that have been seen as widespread in this century. Despite the fact that the Cold War has ended and the threat of nuclear annihilation has been dramatically lessened by most estimates, the paranoia that has characterized the period has not gone away. Indeed, it is as if—as O’Donnell suggests—this paranoia has been internalized, scattered, and reiterated at a multitude of sites: Oklahoma City, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Bosnia, the White House, the United Nations, and numerous other places.
O’Donnell argues that paranoia on the broadly cultural level is essentially a narrative process in which history and postmodern identity are negotiated simultaneously. The result is an erasure of historical temporality—the past and future become the all-consuming, self-aware present. To explain and exemplify this, O’Donnell looks at such books and films as Libra, JFK, The Crying of Lot 49, The Truman Show, Reservoir Dogs, Empire of the Senseless, Oswald’s Tale, The Executioner’s Song, Underworld, The Killer Inside Me, and Groundhog Day. Organized around the topics of nationalism, gender, criminality, and construction of history, Latent Destinies establishes cultural paranoia as consonant with our contradictory need for multiplicity and certainty, for openness and secrecy, and for mobility and historical stability.
Demonstrating how imaginative works of novels and films can be used to understand the postmodern historical condition, this book will interest students and scholars of American literature and cultural studies, postmodern theory, and film studies.


“[An] excellent book, a book that breaks new ground in several fields simultaneously: the psychoanalysis of culture, cultural and gender studies, postmodern and cold war scholarship, and narrative analysis, to name but a few.” — Christian Moraru , Studies in the Novel

“[I]nsightful . . . . All the strains of O’Donnell’s argument . . . come together powerfully in his reading . . . .” — Alan Nadel , Contemporary Literature

“[I]nsightful analyses of the texts in question, especially as they apply to symptomatic paranoia.” — Derek Parker Royal , Symploke

“Insights into important contemporary novels and films. . . .” — J. McWilliams , Choice

“Patrick O’Donnell’s study scrutinizes U.S. films and novels of the last three decades as representations of paranoia in contemporary culture, revealing these cultural anxieties as negotiations between postmodern identity and history.” — American Literature

"O'Donnell has made a compelling case for the persistence of American paranoia. For its lucid critical exposition of postmodern theory, particularly that of the now highly fashionable work of Deluze and Guattari, as well as for its canny matching of theory and fiction, Latent Destinies will be crucial reading for anyone interested in contemporary American fiction and the issue of postmodernity." — John N. Duvall, Novel

Latent Destinies provides a smartly informed paradigm for understanding postmodern U.S. narratives, both aesthetic and theoretical. Examining a representative sample of these, O’Donnell finds that they indulge a cultural paranoia that wags the tail of their late-capitalist bête noire.” — Louis A. Renza, Dartmouth College

“Latent Destinies provides a careful, lucid, insightful analysis of a number of works of contemporary American authors and filmmakers, and situates their work within a complex theoretical matrix of social connections that enhance our understanding not only of the works under discussion but also of the conditions of contemporary American culture in which those works circulate.” — Alan Nadel, author of Containment Culture: American Narratives, Postmodernism and the Atomic Age


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Patrick O’Donnell is Professor and Chair of the Department of English at Michigan State University. He is author of Echo Chambers: Figuring the Voice in Modern Narrative and Passionate Doubts: Designs of Interpretation in Contemporary American Fiction.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Entry: The Time of Paranoia

1. Postmodernity and the Symptom of Paranoia
The Sympton of Paranoia

Paranoia and History: Latent Destiny

Postmodern Temporalities

2. Headshots: The Theater of Paranoia
Branch-Work: Libra

Stone’s Oedipus: JFK

Performing Character: Oswald’s Tale

3. Engendering Paranoia
The Point of the Cry: The Crying of Lot 49

The Umbra of Difference: The Shadow Knows

Exposing Paranoia: Empire of the Senseless

4. Criminality and Paranoia
The Voice of Paranoia: The Executioner’s Song

The Cultural Logic of Paranoia: The Killer Inside Me

Men in Black: Reservoir Dogs

Exit: Under History: Underworld



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2587-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2558-1
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