Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



My dissertation identifies ways in which novelists have used an ad-man protagonist as means to investigate the social and psychological implications of advertising in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Soliciting Desire takes as its primary subjects H.G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, Theodore Dresier’s The “Genius,” Frederick Wakeman’s The Hucksters, Jonathan Dee’s Palladio, and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and demonstrates that the ad-man character’s particular constellation of traits provides a rich vehicle for fictional explorations of desire and subjectivity as they are formed in relation to ideologies of consumer capitalism and art. Guided by Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin’s theories of cultural/ capitalist relations, building upon Jennifer Wicke’s work on advertising in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction, and drawing upon studies of intersections between economics and literature such as those conducted by Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen, my dissertation goes on to define the integral role of desire in navigating subjectivity amidst the symbolic orders of modern and postmodern consumer capitalism as they are depicted in these “ad-man” novels. Lacanian concepts of subjectivity and desire are central to my study, as are the ways in which these concepts are refined by Mark Bracher, Slavoj Žižek, and Kaja Silverman, all of whom insist that psychoanalysis has valuable applications extending beyond the individual, into the social and cultural realms. My dissertation finds that the ad-man character in its many manifestations actively represents dilemmas of desire and subjectivity common to each of us living in a late capitalist consumer culture in which advertising has grown from a cottage industry into a basic existential paradigm. Furthermore, my study concludes that the novel is an ideal form for exploring individual and collective engagement with consumer capitalism: within the dialectics of narrative, text, reader and context resides the possibility of analytic discourse. In the ad-man novels specifically, the potential is for discovery of the ways human desire may be constructed, channeled, or compromised by the dominant fictions of the advertising industry and for allowing such knowledge to inform one’s own re-construction of desire.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Michelle Masse