Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Peter Elmore

Second Advisor

David Ferris

Third Advisor

Karen Jacobs


This thesis explores the relationship between aesthetics and violence in Don DeLillo’s Mao II and Roberto Bolaño’s Estrella distante. Though each text’s central characters begin with an attachment to an idealized narrative of modern artistry, I argue that these idealizations are based on a conflation of literal and metaphorical violence. Such a conflation allows these characters to value violence purely for its ability to impact sense perception, forming what I call an aesthetic violence. By conflating literal and metaphorical violence into the aesthetic, I argue, each character is able to ignore the asymmetrical power dynamics inherent to their idealized conceptions of artistry and the artist’s role in society: specifically, in the modernist drives toward autonomy and social impact.

The idealization of aesthetic violence and modernist tendencies, though, is problematized in each text by the reassertion of literal violence and its physical consequences. DeLillo’s Bill Gray and Bolaño’s Arturo B. are faced with the realization that the aesthetic violence and the modernist tendencies they romanticize can be appropriated by (and are themselves forms of) dominating power. Mao II and Estrella distante, as a result, are imbued with ambivalence; they simultaneously carry nostalgia for the modern and a realization of the violence on which its aesthetics are built. As such, they cannot be characterized as wholly modernist elegies or portents of a postmodernist future, but instead occupy a place in between, a moment of transition in which they are able, unlike their characters, to maintain art’s critical function.