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Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum By Marc Schuster ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum

for example. In a phrase, Eric is completely self-absorbed. This trait, however, is exclusive neither to Eric nor to the exceedingly wealthy class he represents. Indeed, French social theorist Jean Baudrillard has argued throughout his career that the profit-driven framework of consumer culture has rendered everyone in the developed world incapable of meaningful exchange.

According to Baudrillard, we are so interested in accumulating and arranging signs of “good living” that we can no longer relate to each other in human terms. Consumer culture encourages us to believe that we can make ourselves appear more or less valuable to others by surrounding ourselves with more-or-less valuable commodities. By allowing us to measure self-worth in terms of value, however, consumer culture places us in the company of the commodities we value and renders us beholden to their laws; surrounded by commodities, we have come to view ourselves as commodities as well. This is precisely the position in which Eric finds himself throughout Cosmopolis, and the relationship between humanity and the commodities that constitute our cultural landscape is an issue with which DeLillo's characters struggle throughout the author's oeuvre. Given this overlap, my aim in this volume is to bring the works of DeLillo and Baudrillard into dialogue with each other in order to determine the potential for reversing the trends described by the French theorist. Specifically, this volume examines the ways in which DeLillo's novels interrogate the notion of ambivalence, a term Baudrillard uses throughout his career to denote the incessant potential for the destruction of the illusion of value that is at the heart of consumer ideology.

Ambivalence, as Baudrillard understands it, is a slippery term whose definition and significance have shifted throughout the theorist's career. One constant, however, is that ambivalence always calls into question the legitimacy of value. For Baudrillard, value is the principal illusion behind consumer ideology in that it imputes significance to otherwise insignificant objects and, in so doing, motivates us to amass vast quantities of the same. This concept is made particularly clear in Cosmopolis when Eric's “chief of theory,” Vija