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Allegory and intoxication: Mapping social reproductive separation and the crises of capitalism in 2010s addiction narratives

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Allegory and Intoxication argues that addiction crises in 2010s North America are symptomatic of the heightened ravages and crises of the capitalist value-form. This project reconstructs the critical mode of allegory and analyzes three addiction narratives—two films and one novel—to highlight the antagonistic relations between individual consumption, the social reproductive separation constitutive of the value-form, and capitalism's broader crises of accumulation and stagnation during the mid-to-late 2010s. Allegory and Intoxication reconstructs and brings together Theodor W. Adorno's insights into art's capacity to allegorize suffering, his commentary on the failure of capitalism to fulfil needs, and his ideological and utopian accounts of intoxicating consumption. In doing so, the dissertation develops a Marxist theory of allegory and intoxication to read how capital's gendered, racialized and colonial logics are intimately and viscerally registered within 2010s addiction narratives. Chapter 1 argues for an Adornian account of allegory and intoxication, whereby intoxicating consumption both narrativizes and halts the narrativization of value-form objectivity in a constellation, in relation to and distinct from the theories of allegory developed by Walter Benjamin and Fredric Jameson. Chapter 2 shows how the allegorical framings of intoxication in Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment in turn map a world-ecological conception of social reproductive separation and the persistence of unmet needs under capitalism. Chapter 3 concretizes such theoretical insights by showing how addiction films by the Safdie Brothers and Wayne Wapeemukwa combine narrative and non-narrative form to allegorize the separating logics of "wageless life" and colonial dispossession within the context of rapidly gentrifying urban centres. Chapter 4 examines the narrative and non-narrative role of intoxication in Jesmyn Ward's writings on semi-rural Mississippi. I argue that Ward's novel maps addiction crises, racial violence, the management of surplus populations and environmental catastrophe within the American South hinterlands, yet also foregrounds utopian glimmers of needs-fulfilment beyond the value-form's inherent separation of individuals from their own means of survival. I conclude by reiterating the global significance of addiction as social reproductive separation by reading the confluence of crises allegorized in Yeo Siew Hua's film A Land Imagined, crises that have intensified in the 2020s.
228 pages.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Thesis advisor: Lesjak, Carolyn
Thesis advisor: Burnham, Clint
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