Life between Two Deaths, 1989-2001

U.S. Culture in the Long Nineties

Life between Two Deaths, 1989-2001

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: July 2009

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

Through virtuoso readings of significant works of American film, television, and fiction, Phillip E. Wegner demonstrates that the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 fostered a unique consciousness and represented a moment of immense historical possibilities now at risk of being forgotten in the midst of the “war on terror.” Wegner argues that 9/11 should be understood as a form of what Jacques Lacan called the “second death,” an event that repeats an earlier “fall,” in this instance the collapse of the Berlin Wall. By describing 9/11 as a repetition, Wegner does not deny its significance. Rather, he argues that it was only with the fall of the towers that the symbolic universe of the Cold War was finally destroyed and a true “new world order,” in which the United States assumed disturbing new powers, was put into place.

Wegner shows how phenomena including the debate on globalization, neoliberal notions of the end of history, the explosive growth of the Internet, the efflorescence of new architectural and urban planning projects, developments in literary and cultural production, new turns in theory and philosophy, and the rapid growth of the antiglobalization movement came to characterize the long nineties. He offers readings of some of the most interesting cultural texts of the era: Don DeLillo’s White Noise; Joe Haldeman’s Forever trilogy; Octavia Butler’s Parable novels; the Terminator films; the movies Fight Club, Independence Day, Cape Fear, and Ghost Dog; and the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In so doing, he illuminates fundamental issues concerning narrative, such as how beginnings and endings are recognized and how relationships between events are constructed.


“[W]egner’s readings are enlightening and truly fascinating. His handling of Buffy is an engaging exploration of the kinship structures articulated by that television series. . . . [H]is voyages into these cultural texts are highly nuanced and revealing” — Chadwick Jenkins, PopMatters

Life between Two Deaths builds to a stirring defense not only of monstrous forms of community and agency that might point the way to a better future, but also—perhaps more important at the current juncture—of the ‘difficult, painful, and gradual process of education and action’ necessary to realize them (164). If the present moment feels like a return to the 1990s—with clear narratives of good and evil giving way to dispersed and at times wearying sites of political struggle—this may be an odd index of hope.” — Andrew Hoberek, American Literature

Life Between Two Deaths demonstrates the vitality of theoretical discourse today, especially because, in Wegner’s methodology, theory and fiction both perform critical, theoretical work. . . . Wegner’s Life Between Two Deaths contributes to a growing body of scholarship that fi nds in the 1990s a coherent cultural period as well as a site of possibility, repetition, and transition. As such, it provides a theoretical and historical framework that should be generative for further work on the decade. . .” — Daniel Worden, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“This is a highly accomplished, original, expansive work that makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of 1990s American cultural production. . .” — Jennie Chapman, Utopian Studies

Life between Two Deaths brims with insights and philosophical reflections in a unique and stylish combination. It offers some of the best interpretations I have seen of some of the most central cultural documents out there. Phillip E. Wegner stakes out as his period the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, chooses a number of important cultural artifacts, and tells us things about them that we would most likely not have thought of ourselves. His readings are fascinating.” — Bruce W. Robbins, author of Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State

Life between Two Deaths is outstanding. Phillip E. Wegner’s close readings of significant American popular culture texts illuminate their significance as figurations of the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 bombing. Combining cutting-edge theoretical analysis with the readings via very accessible prose, Wegner builds a powerful picture of the economic, political, cultural developments of the period. This is superior scholarship.” — Tom Moylan, author of Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science, Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Phillip E. Wegner is Associate Professor of English at the University of Florida. He is the author of Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: The Present as a Moment of Danger 3

1. The Two Deaths of the 1990s 17

2. October 3, 1951, to September 11, 2001: Periodizing the Cold War in Don DeLillo's Underworld 43

3. I'll Be Back: Repetitions and Revisions in the Terminator Films 60

4. A Fine Tradition: The Remaking of the United States in Cape Fear 85

5. Where the Prospective Horizon is Omitted: Naturalism, Dystopia, and Politics in Fight Club and Ghost Dog 117

6. A Nightmare on the Brain of the Living: Messianic Historicity, Alienations, and Independence Day 137

7. As Many as Possible, Thinking as Much as Possible: Figures of the Multitude in Joe Haldeman's Forever Trilogy 166

8. We're Family: Monstrous Kinships, Fidelity, and the Event in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Octavia Butler's Parable Novels 195

Notes 219

Bibliography 245

Index 261
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4473-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4458-2
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