Bright Lights, Big City and “The Shattering of the Self”

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“…Jay McInerney’s 1984 publication of Bright Lights allows us excavation to an even earlier level of American self-confusion. The novel’s second-person narrative, which people found so powerfully affecting, cannot be dismissed as but a clever trick when seen in a broader context—as a visceral reaction to the early stage of a society where Don DeLillo’s J. A. K. Gladney tells us in 1985’s White Noise, “I am the false character that follows the name around.” McInerney and DeLillo knew early on what we have learned the hard way, that the Late American Republic of mass individualism is fully the contradiction it seems, less a total answer to human challenges then a psychic Madoff scheme whose false promise—that a better You is just another reinvention away—necessarily obliterates any meaningful or sustainable sense whatsoever of I. ”

Dana Vachon has a piece up at The Daily Beast in which he argues that Bright Lights, Big City was an “early observation of Late America’s tendency toward the shattering of the self.”

I guess I have a theme today. I wasn’t expecting one. But this all sounds very much like “the weirdness” John Barry called for short story writers to take on in the last post.


Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He’s been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →