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Patrick O'Donnell

Speed, Metaphor, and the Postmodern Road Novel:
Stephen Wright's Going Native and Others

Dedicated to the memory of Stanley Elkin

The road as a trope of exploration and mobility has always been a constant in the narrative productions of a country whose highways and byways bear a liminal relation to loss, progress, and the death of innocence. From the wanderings of Leatherstocking and Ishmael along forest and sea roads, to the frantic and parodic journey of Sailor and Lula to Big Tuna, Texas, or the violent peregrinations of Oliver Stone's "natural born killers," the road has served as a "figure of figures," a metaphor for metonymy, for the contingency of relations between agency, means, event, and end in all of these stories about drifters on the road. The road, in other words, is a metaphor for its own "road-ness"; it figures the sheer drift of identity and language in a narrativizing of the complex relation between the velocity with which contiguous circumstances are processed and the perceived depth of temporality as the system of delays between the initiation of desire and its satisfaction. Under the aegis of the "postmodern condition," I will be suggesting here, the road becomes a means of immediacy and conveyance that signifies the dominance of, in Baudrillard's sense, reality as simulacrum, especially when we regard a simulacrum as collapsing the distance between desire simulated and desire's ends. In almost any road narrative, the road leads to death, but it is the series of events that take place along the way--and the very seriality of those events--that counts. It's how you get there, and in the postmodern road narratives that I shall be discussing, both the "how" and the "there" are the unstable, indeterminate elements in a fractal equation that relates being to death in terms of velocity, futurity, and the disintegration of time.

A highly selective sampling of contemporary road narratives might include Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (at least that large section of the novel devoted to Slothrop's wanderings through "the Zone"), Acker's Don Quixote, Elkin's The Franchiser, Hawkes's Second Skin, Gifford's Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula (and David Lynch's film of the same title based on Gifford's novel), Stone's Natural Born Killers, and Stephen Wright's remarkable Going Native which I will discuss in detail. Different as these works are, they share the quality of being picaresque satires that ridicule the notion of an homogenous social realm and the humanistically-conceived, unitary individuals dwelling therein; at the same time, perhaps as a manifestation of the inherent conservativism of satire, these narratives betray anxieties about the loss of that world and the bourgeois fantasies that found it, and that turn into nightmares on the road. The postmodern racheting-up of the contradiction in these narratives that move between celebration of the fragmenting of identity in the social matrix and mourning over its loss occurs at the level of a hyper-reflexivity. For example, in Lynch's Wild at Heart, Sailor and Lula's wild ride through the American South in which various breakdowns of and assaults upon identity are portrayed is accompanied by the over-the-top visual subtext of The Wizard of Oz: for Lynch, it is not even a matter of "guess which movie I'm quoting from" (a favorite device employed by other postmodern directors such as the Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, and Robert Altman) as it is of hitting the viewer over the head with the fact that his road narrative is deconstructing the former one, that the bourgeois narrative of domesticity, adventure, and retreat and the identity that inhabits it is thoroughly shattered. Yet that narrative also survives in Wild at Heart in the form of a haunting, a visual shadowing (we see the faded image of the witch riding her broom as Sailor and Lula drive along the interstate), an originary simulation behind the simulation that imagistically recalls the stable world that has been lost and depicts the current narrative, as it were, speeding past it.

Similarly, in Natural Born Killers, Stone chooses to portray the postmodern killer spree in terms of sheer velocity. The film is a pastiche of cuts, angles and images that are inflicted upon the viewer at an increasing rate of speed such that, by the time we reach the end, we are convinced of Stone's forced, paranoid point: that postmodern identity (the identity of the film's protagonists) is, in fact, an Oliver Stone movie, a seemingly chaotic but, in fact, highly contrived assemblage of images composed by some mystified director named "Culture" with a capital "C," or "History" with a capital "H." Yet Stone's film, too, as much as it reflexively indulges in the delirious construction of identity as rhizomic assemblage, also yearns for an older narrative--that of Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, who were romantically portrayed as outlaws seeking domestic bliss but lacking the means to achieve it short of going out on the road and robbing banks. The frantic pace of Stone's film is haunted by, and recalls by contrast, the slow motion lyricism of Penn's film manifested most fully in the infamous prolonged death scene: the comparable ratios of these films, I am suggesting, are analogous to the represented explosion of unitary identity in one and its instantiation in the other. Underlying the fragmentation and speed of Natural Born Killers is the counter-desire (perhaps revealed most clearly in the blatant, hyper-reflexive directorial manipulation of images observable everywhere in this film) for an originary and unitary real that stands as the dissimulated source of the current scenario.

I have been dwelling on one thread of postmodern road narratives--the contradiction to be seen in them between the fragmentation of identity and the mourning, through recollection, of its loss--because this strand is symptomatic of the larger cultural paradox revealed in these narratives and brilliantly charted in Wright's Going Native. Fredric Jameson describes this paradox in The Seeds of Time as

the equivalence between an unparalleled rate of change on all the levels of social life and an unparalleled standardization of everything--feelings with consumer goods, language along with built space--that would seem incompatible with just such mutability. It is a paradox that can still be conceptualized, but in inverse ratios: that of modularity, for example, where intensified change is enabled by standardization itself, where prefabricated models, everywhere from the media to a henceforth standardized private life, from commodified nature to uniformity of equipment, allow miraculous rebuildings to succeed each other at will, as in fractal video. The module would then constitute a new form of the object . . . in an informational universe: that Kantian point in which raw material is suddenly organized by categories into an appropriate unit. (15-16).

Keeping in mind Zizek's claim that postmodern identity is "the form of subjectivity that corresponds to late capitalism" (Tarrying With the Negative 216), Jameson's understanding of the glaring cultural paradox of our time--increasing standardization; increasing fragmentation, dislocation and mutability--has crucial implications for viewing the rhetorical formations of identity in contemporary narrative as symptomatic of the postmodern condition at large. The mode of production that Jameson terms "modular" is consonant, in terms of the paradox it embodies, with the contradictory representations of identity to be found in the postmodern road narratives I have listed, as well as in the conveyance of the road itself as it exists in these narratives. For the road is always the figure of multiplicity and possibility: a point of departure; an escape from the everyday, "the unparalleled standardization of everything"; only one of many routes for the "unparalleled rate of change." And yet, narratively speaking, the road taken, however circuitous or labyrinthine, is always the only one, the circumstantial road the nomad travels to encounter whatever fate or accident awaits in time. The contradiction of the road as route of multiplicity and route of singularity; the contradiction of the "modular" as embodiment of "intensified change" and prefabrication or simulation; the contradiction of identity as fragmented and globalized: these circumstances are mapped out in postmodern narratives of the road where the contiguous relation forged between events signifies the postmodern condition of being in time and space.

Before turning to Stephen Wright's negotiation of these contraries in Going Native, I want to refer briefly to a salient passage from Elkin's The Franchiser in which the travelling salesman, Ben Flesh, tells us what he sees on the road:

"Listen . . . I drive the road. I go up and down it. I stay in motels and watch the local eyewitness news at ten. Murders are done, town councils don't know what to do about porno flicks, everywhere the cops have blue flu, farmers nose-dive from threshers, supply and demand don't work the way they used to, and even our President's at a loss and his advisers divided. The left hand don't know what the right hand is doing and only the weather report touches us all. The time and the temperature. What we have left for community. Only that. The barometer adjusted to sea level, the heat wave, the drought, the cold front stalled over Wisconsin, today's low and it's the record. And the fuss that's made! My God, the fuss that's made and only because it's what the local eyewitness news thinks holds us together. Some view of us it has, pals. As if we lived the wind under the same umbrella. I see this. City after city and state after state. . . . We should take over the stations and put out the real news. For everyone murdered a million unscathed, for every fallen farmer so many upright. We would put it out. Bulletin: Prisoners use sugar in their coffee! Do you see the sweet significance. We argue the death penalty and even convicts eat dessert. . . .The state's bark is always worse than its bite, brothers, and goodness is living in the pores of the System, and Convenience . . . Nobody, nobody, nobody ever had it so good. Take heed. A franchiser tells you."

The passage reveals Elkin's characteristic concern with systems of all kinds--discursive, metereological, political--and his love for the endless monologues and conversation that, by virtue of their noisy excess, talk us through and around systems. Here, stumping for specificity within the entropy of systems--what exists in its "pores"--Flesh posits against standardization, "as if we lived the wind under the same umbrella," a mode of perception, a form of "taking heed." Wright's version of this narrative resistance to the system is a form of particularization which serves to disturb the surface of the image and interrupt the endless flow of simulated representations that inundate the "Viewer"; this rhetorical jamming device thus troubles the paradox of modularity Jameson describes. What energizes the narratives I have mentioned is the contradictory desire of postmodern identity for fragmentation and wholeness, mutability and stability--the latter set expressed as a yearning for the lost narrative of unitary identity that haunts the text. In his writing, Wright frames this contradiction--this desire--under the terms of what might be called a mortal visuality, an apperception of the temporality of all viewers and representations.

Going Native, Wright's third novel, is arranged as a modular narrative. The tonality of Going Native is, perhaps, best captured--not at all hyperbolically--by Robert Coover, who describes the novel in a blurb as "a sensational prime time novel . . . Imagine a pornographic twilight zone of beebee-eyed serial killers, drug-stunned pants-dropping road-warriors and 'marauding armies of mental vampies,' a nightmarish country of unparalleled savagery, where there is no longer any membrane between screen and life and the monster image feed is inexhaustible." From one perspective, the novel is a series of seemingly unconnected vignettes of life along the road whose only commonality is the surprise guest appearance of the protean Wylie (yes, like the Coyote) who suddenly walks out of his own middle-class existence as father, husband, and resident of the aptly named Wakefield Estates, steals a green Ford Galaxie, and takes off for parts unknown. On a road trip in which Wyle will be transformed from businessman to mass murderer, he will have chance encounters with a sequence of characters whose backgrounds have been filled in for the reader before the fateful moment when Wyle's path crosses theirs, including a suburban couple into drugs and kinky sex, a hitchhiker who occasionally robs and murders his benefactors, a desert motel owner's runaway daughter and her heavy metal boyfriend, a voyeur who makes pornographic movies unbeknownst to the "amateur" participants, a woman who sells jewelry and serves as a witness at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, and a California couple who work in the film industry, just returned from an adventurous journey through the jungles of Borneo. What links these disparate narrative modules (each cast as the rendition of a separate "world within a world" in which the ordinary becomes exotic, and the exotic ordinary) is the figure of Wylie, operating under the pseudonym of Tom Hanna (his name echoing the cartoon team of Hanna-Barbera). Wylie acts, variously, as the insertion of fate, or accident, or mere contingency into the lives of these characters: he steals the Galaxie from the crack-benumbed Mister CD; he gives the hitchiker a ride; he assists the motel owner's daughter in her getaway; he murders the voyeur pornographer, who makes the mistake of attempting to photograph Wylie and a friend; he robs the jewelry saleswoman while getting married at the wedding chapel; he murders the film industry couple and their friends in their California home. Wylie thus serves as a connective narrative device--both on the road and an embodiment of it as a totalizing metaphor that forges the linkages between a disparate and fragmented American "reality"; more precisely, as a figure who is both the agent of fate and the bringer of chaos--as the nomadic signifier joining these scattered stories--he serves as a point of suture between the imaginary and social orders, between desire and narrative.

This format enables Wright to satirize numerous manifestations of contemporary American life--including designer drugs, yuppies, bondage, tv talk shows, our cultural fascination with the figure of the serial killer, Las Vegas, the romance of the road, "nature," critical theory, and the forever disappearing but always reproduced "primitive." More significantly, the modular form of Going Native is the means for Wright to bring together and particularize within a single, stitched narrative the contradictions of postmodern identity. Diverse and freakish as they may appear to be, the characters Wylie randomly encounters along the road bear a visible, almost tiresome uniformity when it comes to matters of the body and identity; indeed, they are, mutable and fragmented, clichéd versions of identity under postmodernity. In Going Native, the body and identity are conflated as decentered sites of inscription and repositories of images. The homicidal hitchiker, picked up by a truck driver whom he later murders, is covered with tattoos: "No panthers or skulls, no dragons or nudes, these tattoos offered an unexpected jungle of pure design, spirals and knots, mazes and mandelas, interwoven and overlapped in a deliberate thwarting of the desire for representation, this prime example of tribal blackwork spoke to an inner, more private eye" (81). "'What's it supposed to be,'" asks the doomed truck driver: "The hitchhiker smiled, as if the question were familiar, as well as the answer. 'The inside of my head'" (81). When he is not minding the store, the desert motel owner is writing screenplays; his current project, a science fiction script called The Syn-Man, involves an amnesiac alien who only begins to discover his true identity and his past when he experiences visions caused by tasting the blood from his own wound:

"John" begins conducting secret sessions in the bathroom, reopening his wound, retasting the blood--a growing addiction for imagery he cannot yet comprehend, shifting acid color and form, shards of narrative that seem to offer a hint to the mystery of himself. The pieces fall, eventually, into these alarming facts: on another world in another universe there exists a civilization of machines, or some approximation thereof, all terms being relative, of course, since in the tricky transference from one universe to another, understanding and substance also undergo a harrowing metamorphosis into the physical and spiritual terms of the host reality, comprende? For example, the apparatus of our eyes would be totally unable to perceive "John" in his natural state. He is the product of an artificial intelligence's fumbling attempt at creating organic life, the embodiment in three dimensions of a system of machines whose own origins are no longer on deposit at the memory bank. (98)

Cyborg, simulation, pieced together out of the shards of narrative, John appears, like the hitchhiker, to image forth his own interiority which, itself, is a pastiche of images. Similarly, Perry, the voyeuristic photographer of amateur pornography, awaits the completion of his identity as a vessel to be filled or a movie to be shot: "He had spent the majority of his years (twenty-seven of 'em so far, rings on a tree he honestly expected to be chain-sawed for pulp before producing any decent shade) attempting with about six meager ounces of Perry-essence to fill a ten-gallon mold of a half-imagined figure somewhere east of Dean and north of Elvis, but now he was simply searching for the bottom, his bottom, The Bottom, it didn't seem to matter. The future was coming; the herald of its gaudy carousel lights already visible out past the barren moons of the self. He would be instructed then, presented with the proper rule book on the game's last half. In the meantime, he was a pervert (temporarily)" (125). In Perry, we see the link established between these identity-constructions and temporality, for each lives in the moment, the past erased, everything visible on the surface, the future an eventuality that provides what is, in fact, a permanent temporariness with some virtual boundary and form.

The desire that undergirds these projections is put plainly by one of the characters who, along with Perry, attends a carnivalesque party in which the filming of a pornographic movie and satanic rituals are combined: "'I want to be goo'" (130). Desiring to be "goo," sheer protoplasm, identity as "plasma," is the material equivalent to the desideratum enunciated by Perry: "See yourself as an image, become the image you want to see" (135). In Wright's novel, the galaxy inhabited by subjects whose project is to become pure protean substance, pure image, is, appropriately, the Baudrillardian "evil" world of the simulacrum, the endless flow of images from the "inexhuastible monster feed" whose tentacles of transmission reach to every recess of the planet. The metaphor of the image feed--the current of the disconnected and contiguous bytes of the real upon which Wright's postmodern anthropophagi feast in order to nourish their commodified identities--informs every aspect of the novel. The desert motels, Vegas wedding chapels, malls, domestic sites, and truck stops of Going Native offer fulsome commentary on contemporary America's amazing capacity to cannibalize cultural materials in the manufacture of paradoxical simulacra that standardize diversity. But nowhere are the horrifying and hilarious contradictions of what Wright views as a global condition more wrenchingly manifested than in those scenes depicting a journey into the jungle, back to the supposed primal scene of origins and the Conradian "heart of darkness" which, it turns out, is a form of cultural hybridization that mirrors, rather than offering an alterity to, the global dominance of U.S. culture.

Amanda and Drake, escaping careers of starring in and directing "B" movies, enter the jungles of Borneo in search of, as Amanda puts it, "'a place we've never been'" (215). Amanda, in particular, dreams of transcending the nihilism and superficiality of the image feed in undertaking a pilgrimage to "the Buddhist shrine of Borobudur, a mammoth manmade cosmic mountain rising dramatically from the Kedu plain on the island of Java (the exotic names of these hallucinatory sites--Bali, Sumatra, Maluku, Timor--the sensuous language of Occidental fantasy, of moonlit colonialism, of contemporary high-fashion fragrances)" (195). There, immersed in yet another simulacrum, she contemplates mortality: "So the question posed by this shrine was persistent: how did one break the tether of death? The prescription of the major Eastern religions seemed to be to pretend that you were already dead. Put crudely, death was the cessation of pretty pictures. Learn to disengage yourself from the film . . . summon up the courage to get up out of your seat and actually leave the theater, and you will have slipped the bonds of mortality" (199). Yet this alternative, Amanda and Drake soon learn, is no longer available. In itself, it is a fantasizing of origins before representation, before the production of "pretty pictures," images, and simulacra that are to be found everywhere in the jungle, culture at the heart of nature, and nature itself a matter of redundancy, a repository of copy and repetition.

Searching for Pa Jutoh Den, the father of a clan of native tour guides at the end of a long journey by boat and the beginning of an arduous trek through the jungle, Amanda and Drake find him "in the distinctive small bungalow at the edge of the forest, the one with the carvings on the roof, parodies of Western men in handlebar mustaches, Santa Claus beards, big white tombstone-sized grinning teeth" (214). This parodic reversal of the skulls on poles that Marlow sees in The Heart of Darkness both mocks colonialist assumptions about the jungle and its inhabitants and offers sardonic commentary on the invasion of the West to every part of the globe--an invasion now so familiar and complete that contemplation of it becomes merely reflexive. And reflexivity, parody, mimicry, Wright makes clear, are the last encrypted refuges of an imperalism that converts everything into simulacra, images constructed upon images: "'Never get off the boat,' replied Drake, and, at the sound the famous fictional movie line echoing in the relevant air of this real place, they both laughed, the levels of self-consciousness attendant upon a contemporary journey like this were positively Pirenesian in number and involution, the pertinent dialogue had already been spoken, the images already photographed, the unsullied, unscripted experience was practically extinct, and you were left to wander at best through a maze of distorting mirrors, unless somewhere up ahead the living coils of this river carried one down and out of the fun house" (210).

But as they plunge deeper into a jungle described as "mile after absolute mile of bursting, shrieking, pullulating redundancy" (223), rather than escaping the fun house of postmodern culture, Amanda and Drake become increasingly trapped within it. Instead of discovering a place they've never seen, they discover hybrids of places and objects already seen, as if the jungle were a vast cultural junkyard, a dumping ground for the Western imaginary. They view their guide, Mr. Den, as an "individual . . . of mismatched parts, dark strokes and spiky shadows with no discernible bottoms, 'a cubist character,' pronounced Drake, a man stubbornly unlike . . . their friends. They were good Americans after all, they wanted to lose their entangling selves" (216). To Amanda, the cacophony of the jungle sounds "'like a video game'" (223). Through a kind of back projection, the scene of the sun shining through enormous trees is imaged as "the ancestral scene every cathedral was designed to mimic" (229). And at the heart of the jungle in the "ancestral home" of the "native" village, who are they first greeted by but "a young man in a Raiders cap and a black T-shirt displaying a jawless skull above the flaming logo BURNING SORE . . . making his way through the crowd" (234). So involuted is this palimpsestic apparition of the village chief's son that Amanda remarks, ironically, "'I do believe . . . that we have entered the enchanted world beyond irony'" (234), an expression suggesting that what motivates the fantasy of exoticism and otherness in which Amanda and Drake engage is the desire to escape historical ironies and displacements. In fact, the irony and mimicry have just begun, and in the most contorted and funny scenes of the novel, Wright describes Amanda and Drake "going native," partaking of the local rituals, which, among other things, include long bouts of drunkeness, a pig hunt right out of Lord of the Flies, the oral transmission of the movie plot of Terminator, a mimed version of a Roadrunner cartoon, and viewings of the film, Batman (Jack Nicholson, it turns out, has visited the village in the past, an encounter with divinity that is commemorated in the trio of photographs in the chief's longhouse of "President Suharto, the standard lithograph of a thorn-crowned and teary Jesus, and, in the elevated place of honor in between, a black and white glossy of a smirking Jack Nicholson" [236]). At the end of several exhausting days of such revelations, Drake exclaims, "'I have found my movie" (245), and the couple heads home to recreate Borneo within the walls of their suburban L.A. home and await their encounter with fate in the form of Wylie who, Manson-style, murders them and their friends during an ersatz Indonesian dinner party.

Were Wright to stop there, Going Native would stand as a compelling indictment of a version of late capitalist, postmodern culture which reduces visuality to a processing of endless, contiguous images (as seen in "channel-surfing"), identity to a nominal pastiche of mutable forms and guises, and the road--that conveyance of time and event--to sheer connectivity, the purveyor of "anything can happen" and "what comes next." Yet, as a satirist, this "liberatory" view of postmodernism which--Wright's novel makes clear, is perfectly complicit with the modularization of the real that Jameson describes--is one that Wright wishes to critique, and he does so by rhetorically suggesting that the image be opened up to scrutiny, that the tyranny of the image be challenged. Contrary to the exoticized "escape from pretty pictures" that plays its part in Amanda's colonial fantasy, Wright, via the figure of Wylie, proposes a burrowing into the image feed, a forced recognition of the singularity of images, their status as temporal constructs, their correspondences and linkages as well as their contiguity. This breaking down of the flow of images signifies, for Wright, the confrontation of identity with its own mortality, and its complicity in the life and death of cultures--an unavoidable confrontation that immersion into the image feed failingly seeks to escape.

Wylie brings chaos, disillusion, and death to all those he meets along the road: he thus represents a form of estrangement that (even though Wylie himself is moving down the road at a high rate of speed) momentarily slows down the flux of images and allows for, as Benjamin maintains in the "Arcades Project," a "dialectical overturning" or "'waking up' . . . from the collective dream of the commodity phantasmagoria" (Buck-Morss, 271). But, in Going Native, such recognitions come at a price, for part of this awakening entails a recognition of temporality and mortality, the very elements which the fantasy of protean identity and the endless proliferation of images repress. Moments before her death at Wylie's hands, a victim of "randomness," Amanda is described as fully awakened from the cultural dreamworld of simulacra in which she has been living:

[She] was alive and anything was possible, she could see, she could hear, she could feel the advancing numbness of fettered hands and feet, under her the rock finality of the floor, the urgent pressure of its absolute otherness, and she could endure in all its strident simultaneity the madness of consciousness, whole worlds flaring and gone like sparks in the void; the beauty, the horror, the pasteboard categories masking the all-inclusive something that was upon her now . . . (274)

Confronting what Zizek punningly refers to as the "Big Other," Amada achieves a state of reflection that entails an awareness of "consciousness" as, at once, constituted of the flow of images (Wright does not offer a romanticized alternative to or version of postmodern subjectivity as anything other than this), and at the same time, cognizant of the "urgent pressure of absolute otherness," the actuality of the "real" close-up, and of "finality," as boundaries that give shape to her own agency at the point of its extinction.

This "being-before-death," in the Heidiggerian sense, is materially renegotiated in Wright's fiction as "thought," or a confrontation with the particularity and molecularity of the image--with its constructedness as an image caught in time and bound by circumstance; rhetorically, as I have argued elsewhere, this signifies the operations of metaphor. The aproiae of "thought" occur rarely in Going Native, but one remarkable example occurs when Jessie, the Vegas wedding chapel receptionist, is compelled to think about a response to a question from her girlfriend, "'What do you see when you look at me?'":

Well. For Jessie, an intolerably complex question. Her "knowing" eye tended to get lost in people, in the ornate and patterned beauty of their strata and schist, in the transparent shapes time sculpted in the dark . . . the perpetual womb of images, the dance of savage possibility. Beneath such scrutiny proportions were onerous to maintain, the concept of a bounding wholeness relegated to triviality. The examined Other slipped out of focus, a certain ghostliness prevailed. The more you knew, the less stable the object of knowledge. Mind haunted the world like a devouring demon. What did she see? She saw cracks and fissures and chinks. She saw her past rising through the crust at her feet. (162)

What occurs in this instant of "thought" constituted as a rupture in the pattern and flow of images is a recognition of the image itself, but not as something one can get beyond or through, as if one could escape representation, the coursing and discourse of images. Here, the concept of "mind" or "thinking," which is neither more nor less cannibalistic than mindless indulgence at the trough of the monster image feed, suggests that the image or other, when scrutinized, serves as a destabilizing embodiment of the absence of pure presence, or what the fantasy of the endless image feed and infinite identity-performances seek to instantiate. Such disorientations, for Jessie, allow for the emergence of a suppressed historicity and encounter with the otherness of the real ("she saw her past rising through the crust at her feet") that frames postmodern identity as seeking to escape an unavoidable past: the mode of its being is the mode of this relation to the repressed of history.

As for Wylie, who represents, among other things, the fantasy of postmodern identity as I have described it pushed to its limits, there is only continuance, seriality. Even though, at times for him, "despite the alluring, unflagging flow of images, the surface tension would be broken for an instant, by an especially obnoxious commercial, or an overripe cliché, and he would discover himself slipping down inside himself, below decks, into a complex of passageways of no clear design or intent," giving rise to the recognition that "your service here, like those who came before and those who will come after, is temporary duty only and can be terminated arbitrarily without warning" (296), still, he mainly succeeds in "trying hard not to think, to remain clean by hosing himself off in the daily data stream" (303). In his final avatar, Wylie has become the Viewer, the passive repository of the data stream, wholly immersed in its tide; sitting in his Galaxie, he experiences the idealized state of being-in-simulacra: "There was no self, there was no identity . . . there was no you. There was only the Viewer, slumped forever in his sour seat, the bald shells of his eyes boiling in pictures, a biblical flood of them, all saturated tones and deep focus . . . and the hands applauding, always applauding, palms abraded to an open fretwork of gristle and bone, the ruined teeth fixed in a yellowy smile that will not diminish, that will not fade, he's happy, he's being entertained" (305). And it is here that the novel ends with Wylie, the instrument of accident and fate, the signifier of the road, transformed into an idiotic, yet wily receptor, his identity now consonant with and present within the real constituted as simulacrum, the agent of mortality wholly ignorant of his own.

As a postmodern road novel, Going Native limns the conditions of postmodernity and of the genre that exemplifies it. It does so by scrutinizing in the flow of images the contradiction of an identity that seeks to replicate itself in endless variation at the expense of history through a process of simulation--as the redundancies of nature depicted in the novel's simulated jungles should tell us--bound over the repetition. Yet, Wright's point seems to be, we cannot escape the dialectical intrusions of historicity, or as Derrida argues in Spectres of Marx, our own "hauntology," the return of the repressed past and the fact of our mortality; we cannot escape these because they are sedmimented in the present and in the representations of a desired present-ness. That Wright locates this complex contradiction in those narratives disrupted by Wylie who, like his cartoon counterpart, is a figure of repetition somehow able to forget his own death while engineering a plethora of ineffectual death traps speaks to the parodic capacities of Going Native, a significant work of critical postmodernism that challenges the ideologies of change, transformativity, and visuality upon which a theoretical postmodernity is founded. Wright thus joins the group Steven Weisenberger has termed postmodern satirists--writers such as Pynchon, Gaddis, Acker, Elkin, and Coover,--who take as their project the diagnosis of a highly symptomatic postmodern culture, and who, beyond performativity, seek to uncover the radicality of its conditions.

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